Tencent to launch online trading platform for Chinese bonds

A man walks past an advertisement at Hong Kong's international airport for the WeChat social media platform owned by China's Tencent company. (Photo: Richard A Brooks, AFP)
A man walks past an advertisement at Hong Kong's international airport for the WeChat social media platform owned by China's Tencent company. (Photo: Richard A Brooks, AFP)

Tencent is joining forces with a finance start-up to create a system for over-the-counter bond deals, banking on its appeal to the army of traders that already rely on its popular messaging services.

China’s biggest social media and gaming company and its partner is launching the service on Friday after almost two years of fine-tuning. As envisioned, the QTrade service will help traders meet online and negotiate prices.

It verifies both parties' identities and logs their conversations and transactions for at least five years, thus complying fully with securities regulations, said Zhou Jingyu, a co-founder of the Shenzhen-registered startup.

Tencent is potentially offering a way out for brokers grappling with tightening scrutiny from China's securities watchdog, which from December is banning traders from using individual email and messaging accounts to place orders - their main transaction avenue.

Growing concern

While the government has its own chat system for dealers, more than 70% of bond trades are now conducted over personal messaging accounts such as Tencent’s QQ messaging service, QTrade estimates. That’s a source of growing concern for regulators wary of financial and security risks, given China issued bonds worth 40.8 trillion yuan ($6.3trn) last year.

"There’s been a discrepancy between where traders complete their deals and where they negotiate," said Fiona Liu, another co-founder of the company. "We want to provide a safe and compliant instant messenger to make sure that trading activity is regulatory compliant."

The service is targeted at professional investors. While deals can be negotiated through the platform, all transactions still have to be processed through official channels, such as the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, also known as CFETS.

QTrade will also provide analysis tools that allow regulators to search by users or timeline and format trading data, said Zhou, whose company is registered as Shenzhen Pingguo Shuju Keji in Chinese, but doesn’t have an English name. 

The stepped-up scrutiny on traders using social media isn’t unique to mainland China. Hong Kong’s securities watchdog banned a brokerage employee from the industry for four months after he used his phone and Tencent’s WeChat to take orders from clients.

Last year, a former Jefferies banker was fined in the UK for sharing confidential data on WhatsApp.

Lowering risk

Tencent, whose QQ has more than 800 million active users, said in a statement the platform would leverage its messaging, big data and machine learning technology, while complying with regulations to lower risk.

Zhou, a former Tencent employee, joined forces with ex-trader Liu two years ago to found the company, which now has operations also in Beijing and Shanghai.

They knew at the time it would be extremely hard to get traders to move away from QQ, so they collaborated with the social media giant. QTrade allows users to import their contact lists on QQ and add up to 100 000 people.

Zhou wouldn’t disclose how it’s sharing revenue with Tencent. He said the company is in the process of securing a second round of fundraising, but declined to comment on whether Tencent is an investor or disclose its backers.

"Tencent is able to do so much, but it can’t possibly cover everything, that’s why it prefers to be a platform and work with companies within different verticals to share the benefits," said Zhou.

"Finance is a highly professional field; we have a very experienced team in this area. That’s why they want to work with us."

* Fin24's parent company Media24 is part of the Naspers Group. Naspers owns a stake in Tencent.

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