Blog: COVID-19 Related Circulars or Guidance (Non-Exhaustive) Published By Financial Services Regulators of Hong Kong (Last Updated: 7 June 2021) – Lexology

Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) Circulars/Guidelines

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1 COVID-19 Vaccination Programme

HKMA issued a Circular urging all authorised institutions (AIs) to introduce additional effective measures to encourage all bank staff to get vaccinated. In particular, consideration should be given to following the recent practice of the Government and the HKMA of giving extra days of leave to staff who have taken both doses of the vaccine, or providing other suitable and adequate incentives for inoculation.

HKMA requires that all AIs should strongly encourage staff performing client-facing roles or critical support functions to get vaccinated. AIs should identify and draw up a list of designated staff expected to receive inoculation. The list should include, without limitation, those staff involved in branch operation, wealth management and commercial banking, who have frequent face-to-face interactions with customers, as well as those responsible for critical IT, data centre, treasury and settlement operations.

Bank staff included in the list should be requested to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Arrangements should be made for those, who have not yet been vaccinated or are unfitfor vaccination due to medical conditions, to undergo effective testing for COVID-19every two weeks. Following the advice of public health authorities, the HKMA considers that polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid testing using combined nasal and throat swabs is an effective test for COVID-19 for this purpose.

AIs are required to submit to the HKMA, within two weeks from the date of the Circular, a breakdown by department or function of designated staff expected to receiveinoculation. Staff included in the list should undergo the first COVID-19 test by 30June 2021 if they have not yet taken the first dose of vaccine by then.

The Circular added that promoting a high vaccination rate is a collective effort of the whole community towards the ultimate resumption of normal economic activities, and emphasized that the banking sector has an important role to play in this process and should make its contribution to safeguarding public health and bringing Hong Kong’s economy onto a steady recovery path. This would also provide the requisite foundation for Hong Kong to re-start international travel, which is crucial for maintaining Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre.

1 June 2021 Click here Please also see our legal update on this here. 2 100% Personal Loan Guarantee Scheme

HKMA issued a circular on 20 April 2021 in relation to the 100% Personal Loan Guarantee Scheme (PLGS) proposed in the 2021-2022 Budget. The PLGS provides a supplementary financing option for individuals suffering from cessation of main recurrent incomes from employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PLGS will be administered by HKMC Insurance Limited (HKMCI). HKMCI will rely on the professional expertise, judgment and care of participating lender institutions in conducting customer due diligence and verification of applicants’ eligibility for concessionary low-interest loans. After drawdown, the loans will be sold by the participating lender institutions to The Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited (HKMC). HKMC’s purchase of the loans will be funded by the HKSAR Government. The Government has issued a letter of comfort to HKMA confirming its commitment under the PLGS.

In this circular, HKMA sets out its policy intent on the relevant regulatory treatments in respect of a loan granted by a participating authorised institution (AI) to an eligible borrower under the PLGS:

1) Regulatory and reporting treatments Under the PLGS arrangement, an AI is considered to have an exposure to HKMC fully covered by the Government’s commitment under the PLGS. It follows that:

  • In relation to the Banking (Exposure Limits) Rules, the letter of comfort will be approved for the purposes of the Rule 57(1)(d) in respect of an AI’s exposure to HKMC. The amount so covered will be deducted from the AI’s exposures to HKMC.
  • In relation to the Banking (Capital) Rules (BCR),
    • For the STC and BSC approach – an AI may treat its exposure to HKMC as covered by the Government’s commitment, and risk-weight the exposure as one guaranteed by the Government.
    • For the IRB approach – an AI should seek HKMA’s exemption approval under section 12(1) of the BCR and apply the STC approach for loans granted under the PLGS instead. HKMA commits to process the application expeditiously.
    • SPM module CR-G-7 – applying the underlying principle of paragraph 3.2.4 of the module taking into account the PLGS arrangements, HKMA would not consider it unreasonable for an AI to regard the cover of the Government’s commitment for the PLGS as enabling the AI to treat an exposure to HKMC under the PLGS as “secured” (in the sense of there being a separate obligation to pay by the Government) for risk management purposes.
  • In relation to banking return reporting arrangements Regarding the Capital Adequacy Ratio return
    • Under the BSC approach, receivables should be reported as “Loans to or guaranteed by the sovereigns of Tier 1 countries” with a 0% risk weight.
    • Under the STC approach, the receivables should be reported as “public sector entity exposures” (under the subcategory of “domestic PSEs”) before CRM and “sovereign exposures” with a 0% risk weight after CRM.

    Regarding the Large Exposures return

    • For Part I, II and III, if exposure to the HKMC is reported in these parts, any outstanding receivables from the HKMC under the PLGS at quarter-end should be reported in the “Memorandum item: Deductions”.
    • For Part IV, any outstanding receivables from the HKMC under the PLGS at quarter-end are treated as an exempted exposure and should be reported as an indirect exposure to the Government.

    Regarding other banking returns, outstanding receivables as at the reporting dates should be reported as exposures to the HKMC as necessary in accordance with the completion instructions.

2) Credit assessment and approval An AI is expected to check the eligibility of an applicant against the criteria specified under the PLGS. HKMA considers the credit risk exposure of the AI to be minimal as the loan will be transferred without recourse to HKMC shortly after it is created. Therefore, HKMA’s supervisory requirements on credit assessment and risk management set out in the SPM module CR-G-2 do not apply to loans covered by the PLGS. Having regard to the policy intent of the PLGS is to provide some relief to members of the public over the temporary financial hardship caused by the pandemic, AIs are expected not to take any credit actions which may result in a tightening of existing credit to the borrower, on knowledge of his / her application under the PLGS. HKMA has established an arrangement with the HKMC to handle complaints and feedback received from the public about unfair treatment of borrowers under the PLGS. Finally, HKMA reminds AIs to refer to the communications of HKMC with the AIs for details regarding disclosure in respect of consumer protection.

20 April 2021 Click here 3 COVID-19 Vaccination Programme

HKMA issued a circular on 24 March 2021 in relation to the territory-wide COVID-19 Vaccination Programme for Hong Kong residents.

The key message is that it is in the interest of authorized institutions to support the Government’s vaccination drive and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and protect the health and safety of their staff and customers. This is to ensure that banks can operate and provide banking services to their customers without interruption given that they perform a critical financial intermediation role in the economy and provide services that are essential to the wider public interest.

The circular provides examples of supportive measures to facilitate staff who wish to get vaccinated to do so, especially those who interact frequently with customers or perform critical functions. These examples include:

  • Disseminating information about the Vaccination Programme to staff and referring them to the Government’s dedicated website (www.covidvaccine.gov.hk) for queries they may have in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Allowing staff to get vaccinated during working hours or implementing flexible working hours to accommodate vaccination appointments; and
  • Granting staff time off work, where necessary, to rest after vaccination.

Authorized institutions should also monitor updates to the Vaccination Programme and related COVID-19 guidance issued by the Government, and provide relevant information to their staff with a view to encouraging vaccine uptake.

24 March 2021 Click here 4 FATF statements on “High-Risk Jurisdictions subject to a Call for Action” and “Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decided on a general pause in the review process for the list of “high-risk jurisdictions subject to a call for action”. Authorized Institutions (AIs) and Stored Value Facility (SVF) Licensees should continue to refer to the HKMA circular on “Statements issued by the Financial Action Task Force” dated 11 March 2020, in particular, applying the enhanced due diligence measures and other counter-measures in relation to Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

FATF member delegates discussed and reviewed various strategic initiatives and country-specific processes. In particular, the FATF is developing Guidance to help both public and private sectors in implementing new requirements to identify, assess, understand and mitigate proliferation financing risk as defined in Recommendation 1 and its Interpretive Note. The Guidance aims to assist both public and private sectors in conducting a risk assessment in the context of proliferation financing, and applying corresponding risk mitigation measures. The FATF is consulting private sector stakeholders before finalising the Guidance.

10 March 2021 5 Extension of Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme for another 6 months

The HKMA and the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism (“Mechanism”) announced that the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme (“Scheme”) will be extended for another six months to October 2021.

All principal payments of loans falling due between May and October 2021 by eligible corporate customers will be deferred by another six months (except for repayments of trade loans, which will be deferred by 90 days). Similar to the Scheme extension in November 2020, banks will not issue individual notifications to eligible customers regarding the deferment arrangement. Interested corporate customers may contact their banks. Deferment requests will be handled on a “pre-approved” basis. Banks may request customers to provide up-to-date operational and financial information to better understand their needs when processing their requests.

As the Scheme has been rolled out for nearly one year, in order to strike a balance between catering for the unique circumstances facing customers and the need for prudent risk management, the Mechanism has agreed that, for loans which have been extended for 540 days or more cumulatively since first being drawn down (or trade loans which have been extended for 270 days or more cumulatively since first being drawn down), banks can adopt a flexible approach and consider, on a case-by-case basis and subject to prudent risk management principles, whether other forms of relief are more suitable to help the customers ride out the current difficulties.

4 March 2021 Click here

Please also see the HKMA’s announcement dated 2 September 2020 here.

6 Repayment of Trade Facilities Deferred by the Banking Sector for Another 90-day Period

90-day deferral for trade facilities under the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme

The HKMA and the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism (“Mechanism”) announced a 90-day repayment deferment for trade facilities under the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme (“Scheme”).

Under the Scheme (which was covered in a previous circular (please see “Remarks”)), trade loans have been granted 90-day extension respectively in May, August and November 2020. Some of these loans will fall due in February 2021. The Mechanism has agreed that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate customers can further extend their trade facilities for another 90-day period. Eligible corporate customers can also apply for a 90-day extension of trade facilities drawn down from November 2020 to end-January 2021.

Similar to previous extensions of the Scheme, interested corporate customers may contact their banks, which in turn will handle repayment deferment requests on a “pre-approved” basis. However, it is important to note some additional features for trade facilities under the Scheme:

  • For facilities which are self-liquidating in nature, banks may require the loan to be settled when the underlying payment has been received by the customer.
  • For trade loans extended for 270 days or more cumulatively since their first draw-downs, banks can adopt a flexible approach and consider on a case-by-case basis whether other forms of relief (such as repaying the trade loans by instalments) are more suitable to help the customers (subject to prudent risk-management principles).

Flexibility under the Scheme for customers in the transportation sector

The HKMA and the Mechanism also discussed various difficulties facing customers in the transportation sector and identified the following assistance that banks can provide:

  • Banks will be more flexible in handling new financing applications by public light bus (“PLB”) operators to finance the upgrade of their vehicles from 16 seats to 19 seats.
  • Banks do not need to rigidly adhere to the 85% loan-to-value ratio cap (provided that prudent risk-management principles are observed) for new loans used only for the purchase of new vehicles.
  • As regards new loans granted for taxis, PLBs and other non-franchised buses, banks agreed that they would actively consider extending the maximum loan tenors for taxis and PLBs to 30 years, and the maximum loan tenors for non-franchised buses to 10 years, on a temporary basis for the next two years.
  • Banks may provide other forms of relief to help alleviate the repayment burden of relevant commercial vehicle owners, subject to prudent risk-management principles.

The HKMA reminded banks to be sympathetic to customers who are not eligible for the Scheme to help tide them over this difficult time (while observing prudent risk-management principles).

29 January 2021 Click here 7 An Update on COVID-19 and Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing risks

HKMA published a circular to draw the attention of all Authorized Institutions (AIs) and Stored Value Facility (SVF) Licensees to the most recent update from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on COVID-19-related money laundering / terrorist financing (ML/TF) risks (please find the link to FATF’s update in Remarks column). The update highlights developments since FATF’s previous reports and provide details on how criminals continue to attempt to exploit the global financial systems, with case studies (including some provided by Hong Kong), and illustrate how the risks have evolved along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FATF update reinforces the continuing importance of a risk-based response which does not disrupt essential and legitimate services. HKMA has already articulated its regulatory expectations in this respect in previous circulars (please find the links to those circulars in Remarks column). This circular also provides updates on efforts of HKMA and other organisations on combating ML/TF risks:

  • HKMA has been monitoring COVID-19 related impact on ML/TF risks and working closely with AIs and SVF Licensees to cope with the developments;
  • the Fraud and Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce, the public-private partnership for information sharing in Hong Kong which consists of law enforcement agency, banking supervisor and ten retail banks in Hong Kong, has been delivering alerts and case-based intelligence on COVID-19 related deceptions;
  • the Fraud Risk Management Taskforce established under the Hong Kong Association of Banks (HKAB) broadcasted a video clip on television to remind the public to stay alert of COVID-19 related fraudulent activities and shared good practices on fraud prevention and detection with the industry; and
  • HKAB also held a sharing session, with HKMA’s support, to share financial crime trends observed and challenges encountered during COVID-19, and good practices of AIs in managing and mitigating ML/TF risks.

HKMA reminds AIs and SVF Licensees to study the FATF update in conjunction with the ML/TF risk information provided through the above forums, and consider the relevant implications for their ML/TF risk management.

31 December 2020 Click here

The above circulars have been covered in items 13 and 14 below respectively.

The above circulars have been covered in items 26 and 27 below respectively.

8 Extension of Principal Moratorium for 80% and 90% Guarantee Products HKMC Insurance Limited (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited) announced that the application period for principal moratorium for the 80% Guarantee Product and the 90% Guarantee Product under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme (SFGS) is extended for 6 months to 31 March 2021. The maximum duration of principal moratorium is increased from 12 months to 18 months and the loan guarantee period can also be extended correspondingly. 2 September 2020 Click here 9 Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme extended by a further 6 months

The HKMA published a circular announcing the extension of the Pre-approved Principal Holiday Scheme by 6 months.

As covered in a previous circular (please see “Remarks”), the HKMA and the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism had put in place the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme for its authorised institution participants (AI) to alleviate cash flow difficulties faced by small and medium size corporations. Under the Scheme, eligible small and medium size corporate customers could make deferred repayments on loan principal payments.

The Scheme has now been extended for a further 6 months so that all loan principal payments falling due between November 2020 and April 2021 will be deferred by six months (except for repayments of trade loans, which will be deferred by 90 days). Participating AIs will handle each eligible customer’s case on a “pre-approved” basis, and may request customers (especially those who have been granted multiple extensions of payment holidays) to provide up-to-date business and financial information to better understand their needs when processing their cases.

2 September 2020 Click here 10 Prudential Measures for Mortgage Loans on Non-residential Properties

The HKMA published a circular on adjustments introduced by the HKMA on 19 August 2020 to the prudential measures for mortgage loans on non-residential properties.The HKMA noted that as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, non-residential property markets have seen major corrections, with the prices of offices, flatted factories and retail premises declining by 15%, 11%, and 10% respectively. The transaction volume of non-residential properties also contracted in the first half of 2020, and will likely remain under pressure due to lowered business confidence and rising geopolitical tensions.

In light of this, the HKMA has decided to adjust the countercyclical macroprudential measures for mortgage loans on non-residential properties. The applicable loan-to-value ratio caps under different scenarios for non-residential properties have been adjusted upward by 10%. These changes will take effect from 20 August 2020 and will apply to all transactions where the provisional sale and purchase agreement is signed on or after that date.

The HKMA reiterated that these measures are intended to apply to mortgage loans for the purpose of financing property transactions or the refinancing of existing properties. They are not intended to apply to credit facilities secured by properties for the purpose of financing the business operation of corporates, as these credit facilities are subject to a set of comprehensive credit underwriting standards and regular credit reviews by authorized institutions. AIs may send any questions they have regarding this circular to [email protected].

19 August 2020 Click here 11 Reminder of Investor Protection Measures

The HKMA published a circular reminding Authorized Institutions (AI) of some important investor protection measures in light of the current volatility in the markets.

In view of the recent price volatility of various markets and investment products (including shares, bonds, commodities, precious metals, FX, etc.) as well as the operational challenges brought about by COVID-19, AIs are reminded to remain vigilant, and continue to treat customers fairly and act in the best interest of their customers in the sale of investment products, in line with the Code of Banking Practice and the Treat Customers Fairly Charter. AIs should exercise extra care when handling leveraged transactions where the customer could have potential losses exceeding the invested amount.

Registered institutions are also reminded to observe the following requirements when making solicitations or recommendations on investment products regulated by the Securities and Futures Ordinance:

  1. ensure proper product due diligence, taking into account, among others, the market conditions amid the COVID-19 situation, which may impact on the risk return profile and prospect of an investment. Where the continuous review by an RI of the risk rating of an investment product results in a higher risk rating being attributed to the product, the RI should follow the existing requirement of disclosing such increase in risk rating to customers to whom it has recommended and sold the product;
  2. give due consideration to relevant circumstances of a customer when assessing the suitability of an investment product for the customer. Where an RI is aware of material changes to a customer’s circumstances (e.g. impact arising from the COVID-19 situation), such changes should be taken into account in the assessment;
  3. explain to the customer the risks and features of the investment product; and
  4. present balanced views: do not focus solely on advantageous terms such as high coupon rates or yields, but should explain also the disadvantages and potential downside risks.
  • make adequate disclosure of the nature, key features and terms, and the associated risks of leveraged products or transactions, especially the risk of losing more than the customer’s invested amount (and where applicable the risk of having unlimited loses, e.g. a customer writing a naked call option)
  • ensure that the customer is willing and has sufficient net worth to assume the risks and bear the potential losses of the leveraged transactions.

In practice, AIs are expected to put in place policies and controls to ensure that targeted customers have been provided with adequate disclosure of, and are capable of understanding the risk of leveraged or margin trading, and the possibility of being subject to margin-calls within a short time period. AIs are also expected to put in place mechanism to monitor customers’ margin maintained with the AIs. The HKMA will continue to monitor AIs’ compliance with the regulatory requirements as part of its on-going supervision.

7 August 2020 Click here 12 90 day extension of Trade Loans under the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme

The HKMA published a circular announcing that in light of the issues caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, all Authorized Institutions (AI) are requested to extend the principal payment for trade loans under the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme (Scheme) for another 90 days.

According to the HKMA, the deferment should cover trade loans both currently subject to the Scheme as well as those drawn between 1 May 2020 to 31 July 2020 by eligible customers with no outstanding payments overdue for more than 30 days as at 1 August 2020. For facilities which are self-liquidating in nature, AIs may require the loan to be settled when the underlying payment has been received by the customer. All other terms of the Scheme stated in the Annex to the HKMA’s circular on 17 April 2020 will continue to apply.

As only between 10% to 20% of eligible corporate customers have chosen to take up the Scheme and with AIs adopting work-from-home arrangements in response to the pandemic, AIs will not issue individual notifications to customers regarding the deferment arrangement. Interested corporate customers are requested to contact their AIs, which will handle principal deferment requests on a “pre-approved” basis. AIs may request customers to provide up-to-date operational information to better understand their needs when processing their requests.

The HKMA reiterated that this extension of the Scheme will not by itself render a trade loan to be downgraded, nor will it cause the loan to be categorised as “rescheduled” as long as the terms of the extension are “commercial”. This principle applies regardless of whether or not the trade loan is already on a payment holiday. That said, borrowers who are unable to meet the restructured payment schedule should continue to be recognized in a timely manner and the classification of their loans should refer to the HKMA’s Guideline on Loan Classification System as well as previously issued FAQs.

The HKMA will continue to engage banks and the commercial sectors through the Mechanism and expects to arrive at a decision regarding follow-up arrangements for the Scheme, which will end in October, as soon as possible.

5 August 2020 Click here 13 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) measures – An Update

The HKMA published a circular highlighting some key observations and industry practices to assist Authorized Institutions (AI) in developing sustained efforts to cope with the evolving COVID-19 situation and support operational responses which are consistent with the risk-based approach (RBA).

The HKMA stated that as the situation continues to evolve, it has become clear that measures originally intended to be short-term may now have to be kept in place by AIs for relatively longer, or in some cases reintroduced as new clusters of COVID-19 cases emerge. Key observations and practices highlighted by the HKMA include: 1. Customer due diligence under social distancing and travel restrictions

The HKMA noted that social distancing and a significant reduction in travel have significantly impacted the ability of AIs to interact with existing and potential customers. AIs are increasingly using video conferencing to interact with customers in the course of on-boarding and ongoing customer due diligence reviews. Some AIs have utilised the flexibility provided in the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance to delay verifying the customer’s identity, while adopting appropriate risk mitigating measures. In addition to remote on-boarding for individual retail customers currently offered by more than 10 AIs, some AIs have also expedited testing of similar initiatives for corporate customers. 2. Pressure on AML/CFT resources

The HKMA noted that all AIs have some form of business continuity planning in place to maintain sound operations. To address the pressure on resources, AIs have been adopting a number of responses, which collectively have minimised potential impact to AML/CFT processes. These include reprioritising work on the basis of ML/TF risks, reallocation of staff, staggering office hours and equipping staff with work-from-home capabilities. Some AIs are also expediting their exploration of regulatory technology (RegTech) solutions (e.g. machine learning) to reduce the number of false positives generated from transaction monitoring and screening systems, and thus enhancing efficiency and effectiveness. The HKMA continues to monitor resource allocation as part of AIs’ operational responses to ML/TF risk management and reiterates through this engagement the importance of applying the principles of the RBA, maintaining adequate records of decisions made and that relevant controls or risk appetite need not be compromised in the process. 3. Emerging threats and changes in customers’ behaviour

The HKMA noted that AIs have increased their understanding of and vigilance to emerging COVID-19 related financial crime risks, including through the Fraud and Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (FMLIT) and a recently established Fraud Risk Management Taskforce under the Hong Kong Association of Banks. In line with global trends, some AIs have also identified changes in customer behaviour, such as digital payments and online transactions, and have been working to incorporate their understanding of emerging risks into transaction monitoring rules and scenarios. The HKMA further noted that it had observed examples where RegTech is helping to build out a more collaborative, intelligence-led approach to financial crime risk management and that some AIs are applying advanced analytics to help detect networks and common vulnerabilities.

The HKMA will continue to work closely with AIs to support ongoing industry efforts, in line with the principles of RBA. AIs may approach the HKMA through their usual contacts at the AML & Financial Crime Risk Division or at [email protected] for any questions about this circular.

30 July 2020 Click here Please see the Annex to this circular setting out further details regarding the key observations and practices highlighted by the HKMA here. 14 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) measures – An Update

The HKMA published a circular updating Stored Value Facility (SVF) Licensees on some key observations and industry practices which the HKMA shared with the banking sector in a circular dated 30 July 2020 regarding the ongoing AML/CFT response to COVID-19 related challenges.

The HKMA stated that as the situation continues to evolve, it has become clear that measures originally intended to be short-term may now have to be kept in place by SVF Licensees for relatively longer, or in some cases reintroduced as new clusters of COVID-19 cases emerge. The HKMA will continue to work closely with SVF licensees to support ongoing industry efforts, and reiterated that the principles of the RBA provide the flexibility to be both pragmatic and responsive to the evolving COVID-19 situation and the challenges it presents.

30 July 2020 Click here

Please see the HKMA’s circular on key observations and industry practices at here.

15 US Dollar Liquidity Facility

The HKMA published a press release announcing the extension of the temporary US Dollar Liquidity Facility to 31 March 2021. The US Dollar Liquidity Facility was originally launched by the HKMA in a circular dated 22 April 2020 in response to a temporary repurchase agreement facility (FIMA Repo Facility) launched by the US Federal Reserve on 31 March 2020, with the intention of providing licensed banks with an additional channel to obtain US dollar liquidity in light of the tightness in the global US dollar interbank money markets amid volatilities and uncertainties in the global financial markets brought about by the spread of COVID-19. Given the decision by the US Federal Reserve to extend the FIMA Repo Facility to 31 March 2021, the HKMA has decided to extend the temporary US Dollar Liquidity Facility accordingly.

The operational parameters of the temporary US Dollar Liquidity Facility will remain unchanged. A total of US$10 billion is currently available to banks under the Facility in the form of repurchase transactions for a term of 7 days through competitive tenders held by the HKMA every week.

30 July 2020 Click here Please see the HKMA circular announcing the launch of the US Dollar Liquidity Facility on 22 April 2020 at here. (also covered below in item 20) 16 Enhancement Measures to 80% and 90% Guarantee Products under SME Financing Guarantee Scheme

The HKMA published a press release on the enhancement measures to the 80% and 90% Guarantee Products under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme (SFGS). The enhancement measures were included in the second round of the Anti-epidemic Fund announced by the Hong Kong Government in April 2020. Now Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Insurance Limited (HKMCI) announced that the enhancement measures will take immediate effect from 29 May 2020.

The enhancement measures are intended to allow more enterprises affected by COVID-19 to apply for guaranteed loans to alleviate their cash flow burden in light of the current economic challenges.

Under the enhancement measures, the maximum loan amount per enterprise for the 80% Guarantee Product is increased from HK$15 million to HK$18 million, while the maximum loan amount per enterprise for the 90% Guarantee Product is increased from HK$6 million to HK$8 million. All borrowing enterprises under the SFGS can benefit from the enhancements. The eligibility coverage of both guarantee products is also extended to listed companies in Hong Kong. In addition, for the requirement of personal guarantee by individual shareholder(s) under the Special 100% Loan Guarantee, the applicable percentage of equity interest is reduced from over 70% to over 50%, which is in line with that for the 80% and 90% Guarantee Products.

The Hong Kong Government will provide interest subsidy for the 80% and 90% guaranteed loans, with the amount of subsidy capped at 3%. Each loan is entitled to an interest subsidy for a maximum period of 12 months. HKMCI has reached a consensus with the Government and the lenders on the implementation details, which are as follows:

  • All outstanding loans as of 30 April 2020 will receive the first batch of interest subsidy for up to 3 months, of which payment will be successively made starting from the end of June 2020 (Please refer to the Annex for details);
  • The payment of subsequent interest subsidy will be made on a monthly basis thereafter;
  • Interest subsidy is applicable to new loan applications successfully submitted before 31 May 2021.

The interest subsidy will be automatically deposited into relevant bank accounts, and no application will be required, to expedite the support to the borrowing enterprises.

29 May 2020 Click here Please see the Annex to this press release setting out a list of lenders which will pay interest subsidy by the end of June 2020 at here. 17 Additional measures to alleviate the impact of COVID-19

The HKMA published a circular setting out the application of additional guidance issued by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) on 3 April 2020 regarding alleviation of the impact of COVID-19 on the global banking system in the context of Hong Kong. The circular focused on the following 3 measures:

  1. Clarifications on the treatment of extraordinary support measures related to COVID-19 Governments and public authorities in many jurisdictions have introduced extraordinary support measures to alleviate the financial and economic impact of COVID-19. These measures include, among others, guarantee programmes for bank loans and payment holidays offered by banks to borrowers. To ensure that AIs reflect the risk-reducing effect of these measures when calculating their regulatory capital requirements, the HKMA has also enclosed an Annex to this circular setting out several technical clarifications.
  2. Expected credit loss provisioning The HKMA expects AIs to continue to apply the relevant expected credit loss (ECL) frameworks for accounting purposes, and also expects ECL estimates to reflect the mitigating effect of the significant economic support and payment relief measures put in place by public authorities and the banking sector. The provision of relief measures to borrowers should not automatically result in exposures moving from a 12-month ECL to a lifetime ECL measurement. Additionally, AIs are expected to exercise informed judgement and to use the flexibility inherent in HKFRS/IFRS 9, for example, to give due consideration to long-term economic trends in estimating ECL. However, the BCBS transitional arrangements for the regulatory capital treatment of ECL accounting will not be adopted in Hong Kong. Instead, the HKMA has lowered the regulatory reserve requirement by half to provide AIs with more room on their balance sheets to cater for future financing needs, as per a circular dated 8 April 2020.
  3. Margin requirements for non-centrally cleared OTC derivatives Following the announcement made by the BCBS and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) on 3 April 2020, the HKMA will defer the final two implementation phases of margin requirements for non-centrally cleared OTC derivatives by an additional year. With this extension, the final implementation phase will start on 1 September 2022, at which point covered entities with an average aggregate notional amount (AANA) of non-centrally cleared OTC derivatives greater than HKD 60 billion will be subject to the requirements. As an intermediate step, from 1 September 2021, covered entities with an AANA of non-centrally cleared OTC derivatives greater than HKD 375 billion will be subject to the requirements.

The HKMA will continue to monitor the banking and supervisory implications of COVID-19, and coordinate with the BCBS and other relevant standard-setting bodies on responses to the pandemic.

25 May 2020 Click here

Please see the Annex to this circular setting out clarifications on the treatment of extraordinary support measures related to COVID-19 here.

Please also see the HKMA’s previous circular dated 8 April 2020 for further details regarding the lowered regulatory reserve requirement here.

Please also see the SFC’s circular dated 7 May 2020 regarding the SFC’s measures with respect to margin requirements for non-centrally cleared OTC derivatives here.

18 Hong Kong Monetary Authority launches a dedicated email account and enquiry hotline on the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme for Corporate Customers The HKMA published a press release announcing the launch of a dedicated email account and enquiry hotline to receive comments and answer queries regarding the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme for Corporate Customers (Scheme), which was launched on 17 April 2020. The email account and hotline will help the HKMA monitor the operation of the Scheme. Further details can be found on the HKMA’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage titled “Together, We Fight the Virus!”. 24 April 2020 Click here

Please also see the HKMA’s previous circular dated 17 April 2020 for further details regarding the Scheme here.

19 Postponement of 2020 Supervisor-Driven Stress Test The HKMA published a circular informing all locally incorporated licensed banks that the HKMA decided to postpone the 2020 Supervisor-Driven Stress Test to 2021. The HKMA’s decision was intended to provide additional operational capacity for banks to respond to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 outbreak and to continue to support their customers. In making the decision, the HKMA took into account the current capital levels of banks and the satisfactory results of earlier stress tests. 22 April 2020 Click here 20 US Dollar Liquidity Facility

The HKMA published a circular providing information on the temporary US Dollar Liquidity Facility (Facility), which was announced on the same day. The Facility was launched to provide licensed banks with more US dollar liquidity to meet their US dollar funding needs. This is part of the concerted efforts by central banks to help alleviate tightness in the global US dollar interbank money markets in light of the considerable volatilities and uncertainties in the global financial markets caused by the spread of COVID-19. In principle, the Facility is underpinned by the Federal Reserve’s FIMA Repo Facility.

The US dollar liquidity will be provided to licensed banks through competitive tender in the form of repurchase transactions for a term of 7 days, settled on the day following the tender.

From 6 May 2020, the HKMA will conduct a competitive tender every week (normally on Wednesday) for licensed banks to submit bids for US dollar liquidity. Currently a total of US$10 billion is available under the Facility. A licensed bank may submit one valid bid in each tender, and the bid must be at least US$100 million or an integral multiple of US$100 million. The HKMA will contact successful banks to confirm and arrange transfer of eligible assets as collateral to the HKMA, and tender notices and tender results will be published on a designated page on the HKMA website. The names of the banks participating in the tenders or those allotted with funds, and individual allotment amounts will not be disclosed.

The HKMA intends to maintain the Facility until 30 September 2020, and will make a separate announcement if the end date changes. The HKMA may revise any of the parameters of the Facility at any time as necessary, taking into account market conditions, use of the Facility and other relevant factors. Banks may contact the Monetary Operations Division of the HKMA at 2878 8104 or at [email protected] if they have any questions about the operation of the Facility.

22 April 2020 Click here 21 Circular to issuers of SFC-authorized paper gold schemes

The HKMA published a circular referring to the SFC’s circular to issuers of SFC authorized paper gold schemes (PGS). The HKMA reminded authorized institutions (AI) providing PGS services to comply with the SFC’s circular, the Code of Banking Practice, and the Treat Customers Fairly Charter. In particular, the HKMA reminded AIs to

  1. treat customers honestly and fairly;
  2. take into account customers’ interest and be responsible for upholding financial consumer protection;
  3. provide appropriate information at all stages of the relationship with the customers (including any untoward circumstances relating to PGS services and corresponding impact on customers); and
  4. rectify any operational incident having significant impact on continued provision of PGS services.

The HKMA further reminded AIs which issue PGS to immediately report to the HKMA and SFC any untoward circumstances relating to PGS services that may have material customer impact, including any decision to suspend subscription and/or redemption, and uplift suspension/resume dealing.

20 April 2020 Click here 22 Enhancements to Special 100% Loan Guarantee The HKMA published a press release announcing that the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council had approved the increase of the total guarantee commitment of the Special 100% Loan Guarantee under the SME Financing Guarantee to HK$50 billion. Other changes include increasing the maximum loan amount per enterprise to HK$4 million, the extension of the principal moratorium arrangement to cover the first 12 months, and the extension of the application period to 1 year. 18 April 2020 Click here

Please also see the HKMA’s previous press release dated 16 April 2020 for further details of the Special 100% Loan Guarantee here

23 Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme for Corporate Customers

The HKMA published a circular announcing the launch of the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme (Scheme) on 1 May 2020. The Scheme is intended to provide immediate relief to eligible small-to-mid-sized corporates facing financial issues in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.The HKMA expects all authorized institutions (AIs) to participate in the Scheme, and has confirmed that all of the 11 major lenders in the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism will participate.

Under the Scheme, participating AIs will pre-approve deferment of loan principal payments falling due between 1 May 2020 and 31 October 2020 of eligible small-to-mid-sized corporates for up to 6 months. All corporate borrowers that have an annual sales turnover of HK$800mn or less (estimated to cover more than 80% of all corporate borrowers in Hong Kong), and that have no outstanding loan payments overdue for more than 30 days are eligible for the Scheme. Applications by borrowers are not required so that financial relief can be provided to corporates in the timeliest manner. In accordance with the HKMA’s loan classification guidelines, deferments of principal payments under the Scheme will not by themselves render a loan account to be downgraded to a lower category.

For corporate customers not currently covered by the Scheme or have payment falling due before 1 May 2020, the HKMA expects AIs to adopt a sympathetic stance and proactively reach out to those customers to understand whether they require similar assistance and assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether it is in line with established risk management principles to provide such arrangements.

The HKMA will issue FAQs about the operation of the Scheme. AIs may approach the HKMA through their usual contacts at the Banking Supervision Department for any question about this circular.

17 April 2020 Click here Please also see the Annex containing the terms of the Scheme here. 24 Special 100% Loan Guarantee to Receive Applications

The HKMA published a press release reporting that Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Insurance Limited (HKMCI) had announced the launch of its Special 100% Loan Guarantee under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme (SFGS) and would begin receiving applications from 20 April 2020. The guarantee arrangement is intended to help ease the cash flow issues of enterprises affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

HKMCI welcomes all lenders under the SFGS to participate in the guarantee arrangement. The following lenders will receive applications from 20 April 2020: Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited, Bank of Communications (Hong Kong) Limited, Chong Hing Bank Limited, DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, Hang Seng Bank Limited, Nanyang Commercial Bank, Ltd., OCBC Wing Hang Bank Limited, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, The Bank of East Asia, Limited and The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. Other lenders have also indicated their interest in joining.

16 April 2020 Click here 25 Regulatory reserve

The HKMA published a circular informing locally incorporated authorized institutions (AI) of its decision to lower the regulatory reserve (RR) requirement on locally incorporated AIs by 50% with immediate effect. The HKMA noted that the decision was taken partly in light of the need to provide AIs with more lending headroom to support customers in coping with the COVID-19 outbreak, and encouraged AIs to do so. The HKMA expects that AIs should not use the RR release for dividend distribution, share buyback or payment of bonus to senior management. The HKMA will continue to assess the situation to determine if any further adjustments are necessary. AIs may approach the HKMA through their usual contacts at the Banking Supervision Department for any question about this circular.

The RR requirement was implemented under the Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standard 9 (HKFRS 9) since January 2018. The HKMA observes that locally incorporated AIs have made good progress in enhancing their expected loss provisioning models, systems and controls, and in general reported notable increases in their accounting provisions for the second half of 2019 given the deterioration in the economic environment. This indicates that the “expected loss” provisioning requirement under HKFRS 9 is robust and responsive to changes in external conditions. Accordingly, the need for locally incorporated AIs to maintain an RR on top of accounting provisions has diminished. This also plays a part in the HKMA’s decision to lower the RR requirement.

8 April 2020 Click here Please also see the mechanism for calculating the reduction in RR and adjustment to target rate of benchmark regulatory provision at here. 26 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) measures (For AIs) The HKMA published a circular setting out measures which should be taken by Authorized Institutions (AI) against money laundering and terrorist financing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the HKMA’s support in implementing such measures. The measures focused on three main elements, namely remote on-boarding and simplified due diligence, continued vigilance to COVID-19 related financial crime risks, and ongoing outreach and advice. The HKMA will continue to work constructively with AIs to keep its assessment of the situation up-to-date and address practical AML/CFT issues that may be related to COVID-19 in the most pragmatic manner, including through the provision of further guidance to support the current industry efforts in the light of evolving situation. AIs may approach the HKMA through their usual contacts in the AML & Financial Crime Risk Division or [email protected] for any question about this circular. 7 April 2020 Click here 27 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) measures (For SVF Licensees) The HKMA published a circular setting out measures which should be taken by Stored Value Facility (SVF) Licensees against money laundering and terrorist financing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the HKMA’s support in implementing such measures. The measures focused on three main elements, namely customer due diligence, continued vigilance to COVID-19 related financial crime risks, and ongoing outreach and advice. The HKMA will continue to work constructively with SVF licensees to keep its assessment of the situation up-to-date and address practical AML/CFT issues that may be related to COVID-19 in the most pragmatic manner, including through the provision of further guidance to support the current industry efforts in the light of evolving situation. SVF licensees may approach the HKMA through their usual contacts in the AML & Financial Crime Risk Division or [email protected] for any question about this circular. 7 April 2020 Click here

28

The HKMA and the banking sector join forces to help Hong Kong’s economy overcome the outbreak of COVID-19

The HKMA published a press release summarizing the results of a meeting with Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Insurance Limited (HKMCI), major banks, and representatives from the commercial sector regarding measures by banks and the HKMA to support SMEs in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The HKMA noted that a number of previous measures had seen success and provided statistics in this regard. The HKMA and HKMCI also suggested 5 more measures to further support SMEs in addressing cash-flow pressure.

3 April 2020

Click here

Please also see Legal Update here.

29

Liquidity measures in response to Covid-19 outbreak

The HKMA published a circular outlining liquidity measures taken to ensure the continued operation of the interbank market and banking system. The measures taken focus on three aspects, namely the HKMA’s Liquidity Facilities Framework, the Federal Reserve’s temporary Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA) Repo Facility, and the HKMA’s supervisory expectations on the use of liquidity buffers under the liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) and liquidity maintenance ratio (LMR) regimes. The HKMA also reminded authorized institutions (AI) to ensure they have the appropriate internal policies and processes in place when using the HKMA’s liquidity facilities and buffers, and the HKMA will reach out to AIs to ensure compliance.

3 April 2020

Click here

Please also see the Annex to the circular containing clarifications on the HKMA’s Standby Liquidity Facilities (SLF) framework here.

30

Deferral of Basel III implementation and HKMA’s supervisory actions in response to COVID-19

The HKMA published a circular in response to the decision by the Group of Central Bank Governors and Heads of Supervision (GHOS) to defer the implementation of Basel III by one year, to allow banks time to deal with current issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The HKMA stated that it would accordingly delay its own implementation of Basel III to 1 January 2023, in line with GHOS.

30 March 2020

Click here

31

Requirements under section 60 of the Banking Ordinance (Cap. 155) and disclosure requirements under the Banking (Disclosure) Rules (Cap. 155M)

The HKMA published a circular regarding the requirement for authorized institutions (AIs) incorporated in or outside Hong Kong to file audited annual accounts and other documents with the HKMA under section 60 of the Banking Ordinance. The HKMA will allow AIs to apply in writing for an extension of the deadline to do so, if necessary due to operational difficulties caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

7 February 2020

Click here

32

Measures to relieve impact of the novel coronavirus

The HKMA published a circular outlining measures that authorized institutions (AI) should implement to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on their customers. The measures include temporary relief measures to lessen the impact of financial stress, such as principal moratorium for residential and commercial mortgages and fee reduction for credit card borrowing. The HKMA also suggested AIs should adopt a sympathetic stance in dealing with customers facing financial stress, and communicate their policies to relevant staff to ensure consistent treatment of customers.

6 February 2020

Click here

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