Posts by: Kyle Wong

Kyle Wong, Ph.D. and CFA, is an educator, hedge fund manager, columnist and entrepreneur. At Kaplan Financial he teaches CFA and other financial programs for the public and financial institutions. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Avant Capital Management (HK) Limited, which is one of the top ranked hedge fund companies in Asia. He has been contributing regularly to iMoney. He is one of the founders of, a portal dedicated to FinTech.

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Financial Software Development Made Easy by APIs

Financial Software Development Made Easy by APIs

Building any financial apps, websites or applications will require access to data feeds from various sources such as exchanges and data providers such as FactSet and Morningstar.  In the past, the data often have to be downloaded onto the local computers before they could be analysed.  It takes a lot of storage.  Moreover, different types of data come from different providers with different input interface.  Now thanks to the APIs from Xignite, the whole process now becomes much easier.   I am delighted to hear from Stephen Dubois, founder and CEO of Xignite at Finovate Asia 2016 on November 8, which is part of the Fintech Week in Hong Kong.


Xignite is a market data provider based in California.  It has licensed different types of data including quotes, valuations, earning estimates and fundamental data from different sources.  Users can thus access their data through APIs.  It offers two major advantages: all the data are cloud based, this means that the cost of storage is eliminated.  Not only that, it facilities the writing of mobile apps which use data from the cloud.  Secondly, the APIs for different asset classes have been standardised to make them easier to deploy.  The data have been cleaned up and standardized.   It significantly cuts down the development time.

Today, more than 1,000 companies from 55 countries are using Xignite’s technology to run their applications.  They include well established players such as Bank of Montreal, BlackRock and Charles Schwab as well as start-ups such as robo-advisor firms Wealthfront and Betterment.  Xignite estimated that this year they will serve 1.6 trillion API requests.

Xignite has received many awards including Forbes’ FinTech 50 and KPMG FinTech 100.  Stephen himself was nominated as the Fintech Person of the Year by FTF News.

As Kerry Langstaff, the Chief Marketing Officer of Xignite, explains, the key advantage of her firm is customization.  The user only pays for specific asset class and specific frequency.  The fact that the data is stored on cloud make developing mobile apps very easy.  Undoubtedly APIs make writing financial applications easy.


Wearable Technologies Conference – Falling Asleep can be Fatal

Wearable Technologies Conference – Falling Asleep can be Fatal

According to Mr. Daniel Bongers, co-founder and current CTO of SmartCap Technologies, fatigue is a major causes of death on the roads and in construction industry.  Many deaths are cause by the drivers or the operators of the heavy machines falling asleep.  So it would be great for the employers to detect the fatigue level of their employees so that the really tired persons can be requested to take a break before they fall asleep.

The SmartCap technology is the perfect solution.  It is a blue tooth device that sits inside any cap or hat.  But monitoring the brain signal, it can give warnings when a certain fatigue level has been reached.  The signal can be sent to the employer, the family members or even the user himself so appropriate action can be taken like taking a hot break.

The SmartCap is deigned to fit in any caps or hats.  So it can work with many industries.  Two hours recharge can make the device work for a whole week.  The algorithm behind the SmartCap is extremely advanced to detect fatigue signals and produce early warnings.  This is indeed a life saving technology.


Wearable Technologies Conference – Wearables and Product Design

Wearable Technologies Conference – Wearables and Product Design

Wearable Technology Conference is the premier conference in the field of wearables.  Every year it is held in the US, Europe and Asia.  This year Hong Kong has the privilege to host the Wearable Technology Conference 2016 Asia at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.  The event was filled not only with talks by experts but also with the demonstration of the latest gadgets.  It is indeed a fun event.

One of the speakers is Paul Pugh, the founder and chief designer at Airline Design.  Paul has worked with the some of the largest global companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple in product design.  Airline Design, based in Tokyo, is focused on hardware/software integrated products including wearables for health, fitness and fashion.  Before that he was the Vice President of Connected Fitness Products at Under Armour.


Paul’s talk is titled “The Body as Interface and Understanding What it is Telling You”.  One of the major applications of wearable has been in sport.  Wearables has been deployed to help athlete to detect their movements and improve their performance.   Companies selling running shoes and athletic clothing have been analysing those data so their products can improve the performance of the users.  Sensors are deployed in shoes and clothing to record athletes’ movement accurately.  But Paul thinks it is only wearable 1.0.  In 2.0, the data will be used in a real time basis to give immediate feedback to athletes to give better performance.  That requires a better integration between sensors and softwares.

Another major application is in the area of health care.  When we get off the planes and go through the customs, our body temperature is monitored by the airports.  The idea is that our body broadcast important health information.  If wearables can detect those signals in a non-intrusive manner, many fatal diseases like heart attack may be avoidable.  Also wearable can be deployed to detect our sleeping pattern.  After all  many people suffer from sleep disorders.  In fact, there is a product called Pavlok that give jolts to wake up the user.

There are also devices under development that can detect our emotions and stress level.  Combined with artificial intelligence, the goal is to improve our quality of life.  Many devices like Apple Watch and Fitbit are to be put on the body.  To attract the consumers to use the products, the consumers have to like it.  That’s how product design comes into picture.  So a great challenge is to combine the utility and beauty so that the consumer is willing to use the devices and to benefit from them.


The Dawn of InsurTech in Asia

The Dawn of InsurTech in Asia

By Kyle Wong, Ph.D., FRM and CFA

When most people think of insurance, we think of a salesperson giving the sales presentation in a coffee shop.  If the sale is closed, the customer is asked to do an old fashioned medical check-up.    Then the customer is asked to complete a very long application form.  The way insurance is sold has been pretty much the same for many centuries.  Insurance is not associated with technology.  However, according to Mr. John Brisco, the Chief Information Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Manulife Asia, things are going to change.  The change will start in Asia.

In a talk titled “InsurTech: We didn’t start the fire”, John explains that less than 6% of Asian population has life insurance.  To serve the remaining 94%, relying on agents will not be enough.  Technology is able to bring insurance to many places that do not have enough agents.  Technology can help customers to better understand insurance products.


Data analytics can help insurance understand their customers better.  It will lead a better pricing.   In Hong Kong, Manulife has launched Manulife Move, which provides their customer with either a Fitbit or Misfit.  The wearable monitors the amount of exercise done by the customer.  More exercise will be rewarded with a lower premium.  This is an excellent application of the Internet of Things.

John commented that insurance companies tend to rank very low in costumer loyalty.  Many costumers either don’t understand the products or have experienced bad service.  InsurTech hopefully can provide better customer service and lead to higher customer satisfaction.  InsurTech can significantly reduce the amount of paper work.

John also gave some advice to InsurTech start-ups.  Don’t count the incumbents out.  The major insurance companies are building innovation labs all over the world.  So the incumbents are becoming start-ups too.  Also many start-ups don’t understand the needs of the incumbents.   While Manulife targets the high end Asian market, the start-ups are often providing mass market solution.

In InsurTech, a major advantage of Asian countries is that the regulations tend to less strict than those in the West.  Some Asian countries, in particular China, is much more progressive in InsurTech.  In China, customers can buy insurance on Wechat and Weixin.  Also technology allows fully customized products such as insurance of any term.  John is also very bullish on InsurTech development in Tel Aviv, where they are plenty of startups doing InsurTech, AI and Data Analytics.  John thinks Hong Kong regulators should allows Hong Kong to catch up with the Asian rivals.


Limitations of Blockchain

Limitations of Blockchain

On September 14, I have the privilege to attend Capital Markets Blockchains 2016, organised by Euromoney.  The conference explores the application of Blockchains in the capital markets.  One of the programs is a panel discussion titled “Hong Kong’s regulatory environment for FinTech and Blockchain”.  I find the discussion absolutely engaging. While many are very excited about how blockchains are going to revolutionise payment system, KYC process and settlement, the panelist reminds us that for blockchain to become truly useful, it still have a few hurdles to climb.  In the midst of all the excitement and promises related to blockchains, the views of the panelists are refreshing.

The first issue on everyone’s mind is privacy.  After all, blockchain is a distributed ledger, which means all information on the chain will be stored at all the nodes of the users. While theoretically blockchain is very very hard to hack.  However, Joesph Wang, the Chief Science Officer of Bitquant Research Laboratories, points out that there has been a lack of privacy protocol to address the issue.  Without a protocol, it is very hard for blockchain to be adopted on a large scale.  Not only that, there is the weakest link issue.  The access to the information on the blockchain depends on a personal key.  It has been many cases reported that the personal keys have been stolen or hacked.  At this moment the information or the digital asset is only as secure as your personal key.

The second issue is regarding the enforcement of the smart contracts.  One of the key promises of the blockchain is the smart contract, a digital contract that executes itself without a mediator.  However, as Adam Vaziri of Diacle, a blockchain lawyer, points out, you need a human judge to intervene if a dispute arises between the two counterparties.  One counterparty is very likely to convince the judge that he has a lack of computer expertise in entering the contract.  The judge himself may have difficulty understanding a digital contract.  So this is truly an uncharted territory.

Lukas Petrikas of the HKEx points out that while blockchain can speed up the settlement process to real time settlement, it will also drain away the liquidity of the market as all securities have to be paid off immediately.  In fact, current technology already allows shorter settlement period.  However, HKEx is concerned that faster settlement may be detrimental to the liquidity of the market.

Lastly, Joesph rightly points out that blockchain currently is not user friendly.  So a better user interface would be helpful to developers and users.  Also many of the applications associated with blockchain like smart contracts and database can be written with other technologies like SQL and Javascripts which are much more developed.  So Joesph’s advice is that avoid blockchain if you can.  There is probably another way to do it simpler.  

Finnovasia: Building Sustainable Fintech Eco-System

Finnovasia: Building Sustainable Fintech Eco-System

Finnovasia was held on 30 May 2016 in Cyberport, Hong Kong.  It is the premier event focusing on the current hot topic: FinTech.  FinTech is the application of technology to solve problems in finance: antiquated procedure, expensive overhead, lapse in cyber-security and failure to fully digitize many processes.  FinTech companies mostly want to work with banks and insurance companies to make things faster, cheaper and more accurate.

In Finnovasia we see representatives from banks, insurance companies, start-ups, regulators and accounting firm discussing the future of finance.  Many ideas like cryto-currency and block-chains are truly revolutionary.  Other topics like P2P and robo-advisors seem more evolutionary.  All participants agreed that financial institutions will adopt more technology to improve efficiency, to deliver better products to clients and to lower the occurrence of errors and fraud.

One of very engaging panel discussion I attended was called “Building Sustainable FinTech Eco-system”.  All the speakers were ladies involved in the tech area.  For FinTech to prosper, you need few elements: support from the government, financial institutions that are willingness to adopt new technology, start-ups and supply of programmers.  One of the speakers, Susanna Chishti from UK, discussed how London became the leading  global FinTech center.   London has always been strong in nurturing start-ups due to its entrepreneurship culture.   London has also been blessed by the abundance of programming talents.   The UK Government has been very aggressive in supporting FinTech companies by attracting FinTech companies to be located in London.   London has supported the formation of many trade organizations like FinTech Circle, in which Susanna Chishti is the president.

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Another speaker Ayesha Khanna, the CEO & co-founder of Keys Academy in Singapore, discussed an important aspect of the eco-system: education.  Keys Academy has been running Fintech classes for the children.  Ayesha wants to convey the message FinTech is a tool to solve financial problems.  So problem solving skill is emphasized whereas the word FinTech is to be avoided so children understand the role of technology.

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Joanna Cheung, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Tuspark Hong Kong/TGN, an incubator, talks about the unique position of Hong Kong as the bridge between the East and West.  The low tax regime is highly attractive to many foreigners.  Hong Kong is a major financial center in the world.  As China is considered by many to be the leading FinTech country in the world, Hong Kong is often the stepping stone of many tech companies in China as they expand overseas.  Many Chinese companies are currently opening offices in Hong Kong, creating opportunities for local start-ups to meet their needs.   However, Joanna is also realistic, nothing Hong Kong has a scarcity of programmers.  It has been very hard to bring Indian programmers to work in Hong Kong.  Another challenge is the education system in Hong Kong.  Students are not trained to be creative, to think outside the box.  In other words, they are not really equipped to confront the new paradigm caused by FinTech.

London and Singapore are two of the leading global Fintech centers.  Each of them succeeds because of a supportive government, a community of entrepreneur to exchange ideas, a pool of programming talent and the presence of many financial institutions which are willing to adopt new technology.  Hong Kong must learn from the success of these places to stay relevant. 


Can Hong Kong become a Global Leader in FinTech?

Can Hong Kong become a Global Leader in FinTech?

According to the figures from KPMG, Hong Kong ranks fourth in FinTech funding on a global basis.  In fact, the first part of FinTech is finance and Hong Kong is clearly already a global leader.  Hong Kong often ranks among the top three financial centres in the world.  However, the strength of the Hong Kong financial sector lies with the traditional sectors: banking and insurance.  Hong Kong is not very strong in areas most affected by FinTech like start-ups, computer programming, P2P, asset management and payment system.   For Hong Kong to become more relevant in FinTech, I believe much work needs to be done.

It is not surprising that the US leads FinTech.  After all FinTech is based on the latest technology like artificial intelligence and cryptology.  US is the undisputed leader in technology.  Unfortunately Hong Kong has been under-investing in this area.  Hong Kong’s spending in R&D is among the lowest in the world.  In the past Hong Kong paid more attention to finance and commerce and ignored basic science and research.  As a result it is hard for Hong Kong to generate original ideas.  Worst, Hong Kong simply do not have enough programmers to meet the needs of FinTech.  I always find it strange that the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is much better known for its EMBA program than science and technology.  While Stanford and MIT are also well known for their business schools, they are equally famous for their computer science, basic science and research capability.  Unless Hong Kong universities can allocate more resources to science and technology, Hong Kong’s role in FinTech may be limited to capital providers.

One of the major hindrance of Hong Kong to develop technology is the antiquated education system.  Major Technological breakthrough comes from creativity.  Think outside the box.  This is exactly the opposite of what Hong Kong education system is providing: lots of memorisation and learning. Material that they will never use in their career.  The education system in Hong Kong was very good at training professionals like accountants and lawyers, who have to follow a book.  However, what the world needs are people with creative thoughts, willingness to challenge the status quo.  These are the solely missing in the Hong Kong education system.

FinTech requires programmers and software engineers.  Some of the best and cheapest programmers are from India.  UK and Singapore did well in FinTech because of the sizeable population of Indians.  Many of my friends in technology complained that it is very hard to get visas for tech workers from south east Asia.  The visa rule most be relaxed to bring in the tech workers from overseas.

Hong Kong needs to be more proactive in supporting start-ups.  In this area InvestHK has been extremely instrumental in helping many foreigners to set up offices in Hong Kong.  InvestHK has organised events so that start-ups and venture capitalists can meet.  But I think Hong Kong companies need to be much more willing to adopt new technologies in their businesses.  Many companies in Hong Kong, family owned, has been running the to same way for many many years.  They have adopted the if it works, why changes?  Many companies make money from real estate, so there is a lack of incentive to adopt new technology.  After all, if you own a few buildings in Hong Kong, why bother with technology.  Many industries like retail and restaurants have been running in the same way for many many years.  I really believed that the rich tycoons need to do more to help Hong Kong to transform into a more advanced economy.   Again, in this aspect China can be our role model.  China leads the world in payment systems and mobile banking.  Chinese companies know they need to embrace digital age to remain relevant.  Such motivation has been lacking in Hong Kong.