Discover how this Hong Kong fintech pioneer is changing the legacy world of trade finance and creating economic opportunities for small medium and large businesses with his obsession with cryptic secret codes and now blockchain.
Some say that Leonardo Da Vinci was the original pioneer of cryptography with the Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile and his famous mural of the Last Supper sparking theories of hidden codes, symbols and cryptic meaning.
Cryptography is the study of secure communications and it is this science of coded messages that fired up the passion of another pioneer in Hong Kong, Duncan Wong, founder and CEO at CryptoBLK, a fintech startup that is changing the face of finance through blockchain technology. His pursuit of cryptography as an academic and researcher eventually led him to explore the mysteries of blockchain and how it could be applied to business.
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His firm has been credited with leading the technology development of trade finance platforms, such as Contour (formerly known as Voltron), a blockchain-based open industry platform spearheaded by eight founding banks, Bain & Co, R3 and CryptoBLK
He embarked on a 19-year research journey in cryptography and encryption leading him from Hong Kong to Boston and back, Wong was finally lured into the commercial side of technology by joining the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI). Until then, he had no interest in the business side of technology.
But he described his time at ASTRI as life-changing as he realized the impact his technology research could have in the real world. It was there that he helped author the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s first whitepaper on distributed ledger technology which proposed initial industry guidelines for blockchain applications in finance. Wong describes blockchain as a set of technologies combining cryptography with consensus-based algorithms that ensure information can be stored securely and trusted.
“We hope to take a process that can typically take two weeks down to within a day and eventually to a click of your fingers.”
”We saw in 2017 through our blockchain prototype projects that despite huge potential benefits, business understanding of blockchain and adoption level was very low,” said Wong. This huge gap in potential motivated him to apply his passion for cryptography to decipher the promise of blockchain into real-world applications and drive meaningful impact for business.
“We established CryptoBLK to create an open platform to make technologies like blockchain truly transparent, better understood and more applicable to all businesses,” said Wong. His firm has been credited with leading the technology development of trade finance platforms, such as Contour (formerly known as Voltron), a blockchain-based open industry platform spearheaded by the eight founding banks of Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribar, CTBC, HSBC, ING, Natwest, SEB and Standard Chartered together with Bain & Co, CryptoBLK and R3.The UN and the International Chamber of Commerce estimated the global trade finance gap to be worth US1.6 trillion in 2017. With digital commerce exploding across Asia and globally, SMEs in this region are crying out for improved trade financing to accelerate their international growth.
The platform will leverage blockchain to enable real-time digital processing of trade finance documentation, letters of credit and approvals which today are still largely paper-based. “We hope to take a process that can typically take two weeks down to within a day and eventually to a click of your fingers,” said Wong.
The secure and trusted nature of blockchain technology will reduce the risks of double financing, false information and fraudulent activity which will give banks greater confidence in servicing different sizes of corporate clients.
In May 2018, the platform successfully completed its first live transaction for a shipment between Argentina and Malaysia and since then a couple more live transactions have been completed with different banks and corporates. In 2019, over 50 global banks and corporate participants had completed global trials in the simulation of multiple digital trade finance transactions across 27 countries on six continents.
For a Hong Kong fintech firm to be leading the way in enabling this global groundbreaking project is a major milestone for Hong Kong’s fintech development.
“Hong Kong is the ideal testing ground for blockchain and fintech innovation,” said Wong. “It’s a leading international finance center, many of the world’s banks operate here and we have access to so many growth markets that the opportunity is huge.” He added that unlike Google, Facebook and global Internet players who are promoting technologies to the world from arm’s length, CryptoBLK and fintech startups need to be much closer to customers and Hong Kong is the ideal place to serve the SMEs and banking customers in this region.
“Hong Kong is the ideal testing ground for blockchain and fintech innovation.”
“Blockchain technology is evolving fast here in Hong Kong with a growing supply of technology and blockchain talent and we are connected to the ideal eco-system through the Hong Kong Science Park.”
CryptoBLK has been resident at Science Park since the company’s birth in 2017 and Wong credits the environment that has been created to foster a culture of innovation. “It’s tough in Hong Kong to find the team you need—we require talent with the right mindset to accept and take risks,” he said. “I was lucky to be able to draw key people from my times at ASTRI and CityU to start, but today we are fortunate to have great access to talent, technology, like-minded peers through the Park,” Wong added.
Wong believes that Hong Kong is a genuinely great place for pioneers like himself and his team. “Having this mindset is critical to innovation but most of all you need to set an aggressive goal, something that is not simple or small,” he said. “The goal may even be impossible but it must be something worth your effort and time to strive for.”