The individual visitor scheme for mainland tourists to Hong Kong is having an obvious impact on the retail sector. It has, though, also given a boost to the banking industry and led to the recent introduction by ICBC (Asia) of a new phone roaming service.
The free 24-hour service is the first of its kind in the region and links the banking systems in Hong Kong and mainland China. It allows customers to manage their savings, investment and credit card accounts when they travel across the border without incurring any IDD charges. The service rides on the existing data line operated by ICBC (Asia) and their parent company, ICBC Group, which is the largest commercial bank in mainland China. In their respective regions, the two banks are contacted by customers on a local line which connects them to the automated banking hotline to access their accounts. The bank has nothing extra to pay over and above the fixed costs for the data line which is already in place.
"Since the launch of the roaming service in mid-September, we have seen dramatic growth of at least 50 percent in new account acquisition," says Fong Yuen Kwai, head of retail banking for ICBC (Asia). A large proportion of the people opening new accounts are visitors from the mainland. Mr Fong adds that, of the 700 transactions registered in the first 15 days after the phone service was launched, around 75 percent of users were mainland travellers staying in Hong Kong.
"However, the service is equally advantageous for Hong Kong people who travel regularly to the mainland," he says. "The charges for making IDD calls in China are relatively high when compared with other countries and this is a good way of reducing those costs."
"Frequent travellers will not only get a smaller IDD phone bill," he emphasises, "but can also benefit from the data line service's stable connection and a quality of reception that is guaranteed." As a next step, ICBC (Asia) is already considering adding automated stock quotations and share trading to the existing phone roaming service by early next year.