UniCard is one of the 13 SVF (Store value facilities) licensees strictly regulated under Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) with the Payment Systems and Stored Value Facilities Ordinance and the Guideline on Supervision of Stored Value Facility Licensees. Being a SVF licensee, UniCard is obligated to strictly adhere to the Guideline, in order to protect public interest, protect interests of the user or potential user, and protect the entire payment or financial system.
What is SVF and SVF license?
According to the Payment Systems and Stored Value Facilities Ordinance, SVF is a facility that may be used for storing the value of an amount of money; and act as a payment means for goods or services and/or payment means to another person under an undertaking given by the issuer. This definition applies on both device-based SVF and network-based SVF. Unless a facility is a single-purpose SVF, or exceptional multi-purpose SVF that the user does not need to pay money into the SVF, or the usage and the risk of the SVF are limited; otherwise it is an offence to issue an SVF without an SVF license.
Examples of multi-purpose SVF that needs not a license are loyalty schemes, airline mileage programs, store cards that can only be used at the store’s premises, membership cards where the cards can only be used in a specific club or organization. However, if HKMA considers that the risks posed by such SVF to users or potential users or to payment or financial system of Hong Kong are NOT immaterial, the issuer may still be needed to apply for a license.
What are the criteria to apply a SVF license? And what are the obligations of a licensee?
HKMA may grant an SVF license to the applicant only if all the minimum criteria are fulfilled. After the SVF license is granted, the licensee will be obligated to continuously fulfill the minimum criteria.
1. Principal business
The principal business of the applicant must be the issue of SVF under an SVF license. In general, the applicant should not engage in business not related to the issue of SVF unless the conduct of such business is necessary for the operation of the SVF business. This is to ensure that most resources of the licensee will only be used on its SVF business.
This helps ensure that the resources and the attention of the licensee will not be diverted to other businesses; therefore the SVF business operation is as robust as possible. Besides, it helps to ensure the SVF business will not be influenced by the failure of issuer’s other businesses.
2. Financial resources
The paid-up share capital or other financial resources must not less than HK$25 million or an equivalent amount in any other currency.
The MA may impose an even higher level of capital requirement on an applicant considering the risk profile, the size of the float, the number of user accounts and the complexity of the SVF business.
3. ‘Fit and proper’ person; ‘knowledge and experience’
Each chief executive, director and controller of the applicant must be a “fit and proper” person. HKMA has very detailed and strict requirements on directors, chief executives, controllers. MA will consider a lot of things – including the person's reputation and character; his knowledge and experience, competence, soundness of judgment and diligence; past records of non-compliance; past records as a director; business record and other business interests, and his financial soundness and strength; interests in the company – when assessing the person’s fitness and propriety.
4. Prudential and risk management
The applicant must have appropriate risk management policies and procedures for managing the risks arising from the operation of its SVF business. It includes adequate security and internal controls to protect its systems and data (in particular, personal and sensitive data); effective controls to guard against cyber threats and detect fraud; robust and proven contingency arrangements to address any operational disruptions and major disasters; and other operational and security safeguards appropriate for the business.
5. AML/CFT measures
The applicant must have adequate and appropriate control systems for preventing or combating possible money laundering or terrorist financing and ensure it complies with the provisions of the AMLO and the measures promulgated by the MA to prevent, combat or detect ML/TF.
6. Management of float and SVF deposit
The applicant must have and implement adequate risk management policies and procedures for managing the float and SVF deposit to ensure that there will always be sufficient funds for the redemption of the stored value that remains on the SVF. The applicant must also ensures that at all times the float and SVF deposit is adequately protected and is kept separated from any other funds paid to or maintained or received by the applicant.
HKMA may all relevant factors, such as the applicant’s financial strength, scale of business, risk management and internal control environment when considering whether he is satisfied with the applicant’s management of float and SVF deposit.
7. Redemption of outstanding stored value
The applicant needs to provide easy way for redemption of outstanding value. He should redeem fully the total of the remaining stored value as soon as practicable after being requested by the user.
If a fee is charged to user for the redemption, the applicant must state clearly and prominently the amount of the fee or charge on the user’s contract.
Under exceptional circumstances, the MA may give permission to the applicant that its SVF scheme is not subject to the redemption requirement. But the applicant must state clearly and prominently that:
the stored value remaining on the stored value facility is not redeemable after an expiry date;
the expiry date for redeeming the stored value remaining on the facility; and
any other terms or conditions relating to the redemption.
8. Operating rules
The operating rules of the SVF scheme cover the entire chain of an SVF’s operation, and provide a high degree of certainty for each material aspect of the scheme, including account opening, pre-transaction and authorization to clearing and settlement, post-transaction processes.
The rules must be prudent and sound to ensure safety and efficiency operation of an SVF scheme. They should have a well-founded legal basis consistent with relevant laws and regulations, be enforceable. Adequate arrangements should be in place to monitor and enforce compliance with the operating rules of the SVF scheme.
9. Purpose and soundness of relevant scheme
HKMA requires that the SVF scheme must be prudent and sound, operated prudently and with competence. The scheme must not adversely affect the stability of any payment system in Hong Kong or the interests of the user or potential user of the SVF to which the SVF scheme relates.
When considering an application, HKMA will assess on six key areas:
Corporate governance and risk management
Technology risk management
Payment security management
Business continuity management
Being a SVF licensee with such a high threshold, UniCard is complying with an extraordinary high standard and rigorous requirements of HKMA and Stored Value Facilities Ordinance. Co-branders can be granted confidence on our SVF scheme that UniCard’s solution must protect public interest, user interests and the entire payment or financial system.
Explanatory Note on Licensing for Stored Value Facilities
Payment Systems and Stored Value Facility Ordinance