Trends shaping the virtual banking industry in Hong Kong

Social distancing, face masks, lockdowns, working from home, airborne diseases, sanitising yourselves - the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes to how we lead our lives these days. The pandemic has affected every industry and how businesses run their operations. The digitalisation of services in the banking industry has been around for some time. And now it has become a critical part of our daily lives. Meltwater dives into the social media data to uncover the latest trends in the virtual banking industry in Hong Kong.

So which bank came out on top in social media and has got everyone talking about it? Our data showed that ZA Bank, in the period between February 2020 and June 2020, was the most mentioned virtual bank in Hong Kong’s mainstream media. The bank’s media coverage exponentially increased from 52% to 65% between the periods of February-April and May-June in 2020. During these periods, Mox Bank and WeLab were the two next talked about virtual banks across Hong Kong news channels.

Share of Voice - Virtual Banks

Time period: 1st Feb to 30th April

Since February, ZA Bank was already the most mentioned virtual bank across Hong Kong news channels, with a relative share of voice of 52.07%, followed by Mox Bank with 22.3% and WeLab with 14.82%.

Share of Voice - Virtual Banks

Time period: 1st May - 30th June

Since early-May, the share of voice of ZA Bank has grown even more significantly to 64.67%. 

So what caused this focus on ZA Bank’s virtual banking experience? Mainstream media’s focus on the HKSAR government’s newly-introduced cash payout scheme boosted ZA Bank’s presence because netizens started to discuss referral bonus schemes for account openings. As ZA Bank had attractive offers for the cash payout scheme, this translated to more people talking about the bank. This was also reflected in the Social Keyword Cloud for virtual banking in the same period. Most keywords were in relation to ZA Bank’s referral scheme and invitation codes were also shared to increase the awareness of the bank’s promotions. 

Factors contributing to the Virtual Banking Buzz

Cash Pay-Out Scheme & Referral Scheme

News mentions about Virtual Banks

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

News mentions of virtual banks at both peaks on June 2nd-3rd (96 mentions) and 8th (93 mentions) revolved around the cash pay-out scheme that was rolled out by the HKSAR Government. Interestingly, the articles by New Holiday Magazine and New Monday, which were shared/liked/commented on most during the respective dates, listed out the monetary incentives traditional banks and ZA Bank offered to attract account-opening under the cash pay-out scheme. New Holiday Magazine has generated 24412 social echoes on Facebook, whereas New Monday was shared/liked/commented on social media for 980 times.

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

Most of the trending keywords are associated with ZA Bank’s referral scheme, such as “定期存款” (Translation: Time Deposit) (87 mentions) and 活期存利率 (Translation: Demand deposit interest rate) (81 mentions). Clicking onto the themes, we can immediately see the invitation codes of ZA Bank linked with these keywords. “眾安銀行” (Translation: ZA Bank) (20 mentions), “ZA Bank 眾安銀” (13 mentions) and “ZA 銀行開左戶” (Translation: Opened account at ZA Bank) (82 mentions) also appeared frequently in the social discussions. It is likely that the referral scheme paired with several discounts has heightened the awareness and attracted an increasing number of customers for ZA Bank.

Discussions in forums

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

Discussions continued through early-June, given some obvious spikes on the chart. There were 184 discussions starting from June 1st, and more than 90% of discussions (134 in total) revolved around ZA Bank.

Riding on HKD10000 Government’s cash payout, ZA Bank’s decision to offer $1000 on top of the cash payout has accumulated 64 mentions, accounting for 35% of total mentions.

On the other hand, 36% (67 in total) are referring to the referral scheme of ZA Bank. Those who registered for ZA Bank were sending out invitation codes on the Internet, in order to get a 2% p.a. rate-up coupon, in different threads, particularly discuss.com.hk

Reluctance Towards the Virtual Banking Industry

Sentiment around virtual banking

Time period:1st June - 9th June

A sentiment analysis on virtual banking showed there were almost 13 times more negative mentions than positive ones. There were a total of 57 mentions with negative sentiments within the period of 1st June to 9th June. Neutral sentiments were generally made up of invitation codes for the referral scheme. A few factors which drove away potential customers from virtual banking were notably found in discussion boards.

Factors Contributing to the Reluctance

1. Biometric Recognition

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

We noticed some negative keywords such as 小便宜 (13 mentions) in the keyword cloud. They were linked with LIHKG posts where netizens highlighted their security concerns of facial recognition required by ZA Bank. This unsettled potential customers who were worried that the biometrics requirements would be used to cross-check their identity when captured on CCTV. Also, these measures were only required by virtual banks, but not traditional banks. This led to some discouraging others from registering.

Top social post with negative sentiment around virtual banking

Time period: 9th May - 9th June


The tweet by @samhon852 that potentially reached 6.94K readers showed that some netizens deemed the referral scheme as a highly contentious move.The netizens complained about ZA Bank’s biometric measures when opening an account, suggesting that ZA Bank would “collect your personal data for China”.

Notably, the LIHKG thread titled as “ZA 虛擬銀行騙局” (Translation: ZA Bank Scam) was reposted on Twitter by @Hkers51 and several netizens. The discussion thread accumulated over 4 pages, 81 replies and 158 reactions. As expected, it addressed the concerns regarding the facial recognition and data security of ZA Bank. It is likely that these concerns contributed to potential customers hesitating to sign up for virtual banking.

2. Perception of E-Banking and Virtual Banking

Mentions of Virtual Banks in Forums

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

There was a discussion thread on 21st May that generated a high volume of attention - “虛擬銀行既成立,係咪利多於弊??“ (Translation: Do the advantages of virtual banks outweigh the disadvantages?). A worrying trend of the discussions in the threads revealed that netizens did not realise the difference between e-banking and virtual banking. Many highlighted that the two services were the same and this contributed to them not signing up for virtual banking services as they felt it was redundant.

3. Rising Interest in Offshore banking

Undoubtedly, discussions about offshore accounts saw a boost since the first mention of the recent turbulence in Hong Kong on May 21st. There was a 4928% surge in discussions regarding offshore accounts (including both News and Social, but excluding WeChat & Weibo) during the period of 21/5 - 9/6 in Hong Kong, compared to the last period. The trending themes regarding offshore accounts within the period are mostly associated with the recent legislation.

News About Offshore Accounts

There were 191 news articles on offshore accounts in total during the monitored period. In early June, there were some spikes on the topic of offshore accounts, peaking on June 1st. Interestingly, the SCMP publication, with the highest potential reach of 21M, and the article by Headline with top social echo (4575 Reposts; 1 Retweet) both mentioned how netizens’ worries regarding the recent turbulence in Hong Kong  and the United States’ decision to revoke preferential treatment led to offshore account openings and panic-buying of US dollars.

There is an apparent increase in discussions about offshore banking as well as overseas banking. It suggests that netizens are currently looking for new banking options with offshore banking. As no offshore banking services were available in Hong Kong virtual banks, it may be seen as a competitive disadvantage against overseas virtual banks. 

4. Overseas Virtual Banks

Time period: 9th May - 9th June

Naturally, netizens began discussing alternative options on virtual banks and conversations on overseas-based institutions gathered steam during the recent turbulence in Hong kong. Netizens gravitated to this option as traditional banking presented an economic stumbling block. This however posed stiff competition to Hong Kong’s virtual banks.

There were 199 mentions since May 21st. The peak on May 22nd, highlighted an article that potentially reached 327K readers and garnered 927 reactions on a how-to guide on opening offshore accounts through traditional banks, securities and overseas virtual banks, published by U Blog. Benefits of overseas virtual banking such as low deposit requirements were mentioned in the article. Similar news articles can be found in late-May and early June, as the discussions continued to rise in June.

The largest volume of forum discussions (50 in total) occurred on June 9th. Many posts discussed offshore account openings in overseas virtual banks. Specifically, LIHKG’s forum discussion threads relating to opening offshore accounts with a lower to no deposit requirements have garnered 5807 comments and 850 reactions. Additionally, the discussion thread was retweeted and accumulated 1.25K reach.

This brief overview on what netizens have discussed on virtual banking and its related topics in the past five months revealed that more awareness is needed to inform people about the service. The misinterpretation of e-banking and virtual banking services needs to be clarified so that people can make better informed opinions which would inevitably lead to better take-up rates. ZA Bank’s competitive rates and promotions may be a driving force in its coverage but a better awareness campaign of the benefits of virtual banking and dispelling misunderstandings on security should benefit virtual banking providers, especially local ones. 

Despite the recent turbulence in Hong Kong being a leading motivator of potential customers opting for overseas banks, local virtual banking providers such as ZA Bank, Mox Bank and WeLab can refocus on developing better outreach programmes to give assurances to its current customers and engaging with netizens as they are a potential pool of future leads. Finally, virtual banking is a highly beneficial service which customers can fully optimise to fit into their everyday lives, especially during a pandemic. And this is where banks can step in to fulfil the fiscal needs of Hong Kong residents.