Octopus chief executive Sunny Cheung Yiu-tong said the firm does not rule out accepting bitcoin someday even as a Hong Kong Monetary Authority official argued is is a virtual commodity, not a virtual currency.
A heated debate took place at the Asian Financial Forum on bitcoin – an emerging virtual currency that has seen its valuation soar and usage expand around the globe. Even Octopus, which operates a smart card payment systems across the SAR, showed interest.
“More people will be attracted to use bitcoin once the currency wins acceptance by online merchants as a method of payment,” Cheung said. “We don’t exclude the possibility that one day our customers are entitled to use bitcoin to add value to their Octopus card.”
His comments triggered strong opposition from HKMA executive director for financial infrastructure Esmond Lee Kin-ying who said bitcoin is not yet a virtual currency.
“Bitcoin fails to meet two preconditions as a virtual currency: consensus on its par value and confidence in the issuers,” Lee said. “It is just a virtual commodity.”
He said there are only a few online vendors that accept bitcoin, but large companies, such as real estate developers and automobile manufacturers, will not takeit when they sell products.
“Will you pay your employees in bitcoin?” Lee asked attendees.
Zennon Kapron, the founder of research firm Kapronasia, suggested a rational use of bitcoin in all sectors. He appealed for specific regulations on bitcoin, which is expected to expand its application.
Invented in Japan in 2008, bitcoin is generated by a software program and not regulated by any government or central bank. But the People’s Bank of China has forbidden the use of bitcoin in China.
Its price rose to more than US$1,000 (HK$7,800) during November from only US$20 at the start of 2013.