Digerati 50: Making an imprint on bitcoin market

  • Cyptocurrency exchange is operating in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam
  • Aims to improve public understanding of cryptocurrency by working with regulators

Digerati 50: Making an imprint on bitcoin market

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article is an expanded version of the print edition.

IT startup luminaries are often lauded for being ahead of the curve, to identify nascent trends before they become mainstream. Hong Qi Yu learned about Bitcoin way back in 2014, and quickly came to a conclusion: "I thought it was a scam!"

Now, of course, Hong is the CEO, CTO and founder of Tokenize, a cryptocurrencies exchange startup that operates in four countries. So clearly he changed his mind along the way.

In fact, Hong had a diverse work history before finally settling on financial markets and instruments, although he had always been in a field related to technology.

"I started as a management associate in a consulting company," he explained. "I was very fortunate and was able to rotate to different roles," he said, having had jobs to do with cybersecurity, and systems engineering for banks.

Eventually, bouyed by his experience in the world of finance, Hong decided to to to manage a portfolio on his own, handling assets. "I made a full-time living through trading."

In the meantime, he still worked as a programmer for a fintech company.  "Only when I become a coder then was I able to understand the underlying technology behind Bitcoin," he recalled.

"That's when I got more serious," he said, "and I became very passionate about this."

Hong was keen to flex his muscles and transfer what he knew about asset management to crypto currency, but he then realised he lacked the tools to do so. In particular, although there were local platforms to purchase crypto currency, he couldn't do complex orders, like placing a price.

"I have to sit there, do nothing and wait until the prices (reach the point I want). And then I press a button," he said. "It's very tedious."

His experience compared poorly to similar platforms in Japan and the US. "So, that inspired me, why not start something like this?" he asked. "I think I can do something better."


"We never expected Malaysia could be so fast in regulations!"

That something better is Tokenise, whose mission is to make crypto currencies as accessible as possible to the general public. Given that the curent accessibility of the market to cryptocurrency is less than 2%, Hong feels that it's important to bring the right tool to the market, caling it "the only way to increase awareness and bring this ecosystem to the next level".

Originally launched in Singapore, Hong, a Malaysian, was keen to quickly broaden the company's reach, given Singapore's relatively small market. One of the first places he looked to was Thailand, because it was the first in the region to regulate cryptocurrency in May 2018.

However, in January 2019, he temporarily shifted focus. "We never expected Malaysia could be so fast in regulations!"

There was still some caution when Tokenise first started operating in Malaysia. "In my early days, when we were going to put in our application, we were also very wary," he explained. "Will (the regulators) be conservative? (WIll it be) very hard to innovate?"

"After going through this whole process, I realized that that's not really the case," he said with relief. "They're very open-minded, they're very neutral," he continued. "I think they are more concerned about protecting the welfare of the mass market."

Tokenise was approved by the Malaysian Securities Commission to be a Digital Asset Exchange in Malaysia in April 2020. Hong is naturally pleased. "The speed of them adopting innovation, I can honestly tell you - it's surprisingly fast."


Carrying on despite Covid-19

Hong readily admits that the appetite for cryptocurrency has gone down since Tokenise began operations, especially since the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

[Ed: Note that this article was done in May 2020. Crypotocurrency prices, especially Bitcoin have since more than recovered.]

Nevertheless, he feels this is a natural reaction from the market, rather than a mass panic dumping. According to him, speculators need to cover their margins, and have turned to their cryptocurrency "savings" to source collateral. As the market begins to recover, investors will be less lilkely to need as much to cover their options, and trading in cryptocurrency will move back to normal, "So I believe things are getting more more calm right now," he says.

As for Tokenise, Covid-19 has naturally disrupted their operations. "We have a lot of marketing plans, we want to go to physical locations in different states to do exhibitions, but they all now have to postponed," he said.

Although in terms of business continuity they are all digital, so there wasn't much impact, he has some concerns on the consumer side, given the likelihood that the economy will drastically slow down - and with that, the investment appetite of investors.

Still, he tries to look at things positively. "Because of Covid, it has helped push us to innovate on creating digital channels," he said.

And his ambition is as clear as ever: "Our wish is very simple; For the next one or two years, we want every Malaysian, if they want to buy Bitcoin - think of Tokenise!"

Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.

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