SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
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TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
LETTER TO SHAREHOLDERS
This is our first letter to you since Futu’s IPO and listing on Nasdaq in March 2019. I want to take this opportunity to share with you who we are and what we want to achieve.
In October 2012, Futu obtained a Type 1 License (Dealing in Securities) from the Securities & Futures Commission of Hong Kong. After over 8 years of business development, Futu now holds 35 licenses, memberships and registrations across Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore and Europe, and serves over 13 million users from over 200 countries and regions. As we execute towards our mission to “make investing easier and not alone,” we have transformed from a brokerage service provider to an all-rounded online financial services platform integrating trading, wealth management, market data and information, social collaboration and corporate services.
Our relentless focus on product and user experience
As the No. 18 employee of Tencent, I first experienced Hong Kong stock trading when Tencent went public in Hong Kong in 2004. The primitive user interface and cursory services of the Hong Kong brokers shocked me, who came from an internet company that attaches the most importance to cultivating the best user experience possible. I decided to leverage my product development experience to transform the trading experience of retail investors in Hong Kong by bringing interactive technology, digitization and social networking to financial services.
We have always been upgrading our products. In 2020, the eighth year after Futu’s inception, we still rolled out 86 iterations of our application and 3,900 new product features. Many product upgrade ideas originated from our users. Every day, product managers and I get tagged by many users in their NiuNiu Community posts on product suggestions. We treasure all user feedback and strive to respond to every single piece in a timely manner. We firmly believe that a good product must meet the evolving needs of its users, and we hope to continue improving our products and grow with our users.
In addition to our unwavering focus on user experience, we rapidly expanded our product portfolio. We started with Hong Kong cash equities trading services, and gradually expanded to cover the main products on major exchanges around the world, including US equities, China A-shares qualified under the Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Connect, options, futures, Hong Kong callable bull/bear contracts, and Hong Kong warrants. We also launched margin financing services for Hong Kong and US equities, IPO subscription services, and dark pool trading for Hong Kong IPOs. For many investors, trading and wealth management go hand-in-hand. Therefore, we launched Futu Money Plus in response to our clients’ increasingly diversified needs for wealth management. As of 2020 year-end, we established partnerships with 39 leading global asset managers, selectively offering approximately 100 top-notch fund products.
Going forward, we will continue to enrich product offerings, including global futures as well as tools and features to facilitate investing decision-making, thereby “making investing easier.”
Constructing an interactive financial ecosystem
The latter half of our mission is to “make investing not alone.”
The investing journey can be a turbulent one, with moments both high and low. For individual investors, investing can be a lonely process as they study business fundamentals, analyze macroeconomic trends, invest, anticipate market performances, review investing decisions, over and over again. It will be a much more enriching experience if investors can stay connected, share the moments of ups and downs with, and learn from, people who bear the same enthusiasm for investing. The NiuNiu Community enables this exact type of experience. This February, Futubull surpassed 1 million in daily active users for the first time and generated an average of approximately 310,000 user-generated content and over 3,000 posts of trading history on each trading day.
In the NiuNiu Community, users can post investment ideas and trading history as well as interact directly with over 700 companies, fund managers, media and key opinion leaders through posts and live-streaming. The NiuNiu Community helps investors enrich investing knowledge, identify fitting investment strategies, and establish rapport with other investors. This engaging social community contributes immensely to our competitive moat. Even the best investment tools may be replicated through time, but the content and culture of a community stand and persist. The many years of hard work we poured into cultivating the NiuNiu Community have translated into the unique community culture we have today. The caring and supportive atmosphere as well as the sense of inclusiveness and curiosity imbued in our NiuNiu Community promote user engagement and increase user stickiness.
2021 is the year of Futu’s internationalization
Following Futu’s growing market share among residents in mainland China and Hong Kong, we would like to expand our footprint into more countries with our moomoo app. Singapore and the United States come as strategic focuses of our international expansion in 2021. We believe our product that seeks for depth, perfection and connectivity can provide highly differentiated value propositions to retail investors in these markets.
Singapore’s financial industry is mature, with many established securities brokers. However, most brokers fail to meet investors’ needs in the mobile internet era, and charge exorbitant fees. We officially launched moomoo in Singapore on March 8, 2021, and have since then seen robust growth momentum and received encouraging user feedback. We are confident in our growth prospects in Singapore. Looking ahead, we will leverage Singapore as our entry point into the broader Southeast Asia market.
In the U.S., quite a few online brokers have developed trading platforms with easy-to-use interfaces and simple functions to cater to newbie investors. There are also well-established brokerage firms which provide advanced features but lack straightforward mobile experience. We believe that moomoo strikes a delicate balance between user-friendly mobile design and advanced product features, and can thus very well fill the market gap between incumbents and online brokers.
When I founded Futu nine years ago, I made the decision to develop a fully-proprietary closed-loop trading system in Hong Kong. This was not an easy nor fast path to embark on, but it allowed us to build a solid foundation to our business. Thanks to that decision, now we can quickly launch and upgrade products, expand our system, and replicate our business in new markets. Never has technology played a more transformational role in financial services, and we are committed to capturing the tremendous opportunities in this new era.
Leaf Hua Li
Founder, Chairman of the Board,
Chief Executive Officer and
Chairman of the Technology Committee
Unless otherwise indicated or the context otherwise requires, references in this annual report to:
|●||“ADSs” are to American depositary shares, each of which represents eight Class A ordinary shares;|
|●||“availability rate” are to the ratio of the total time a service system is capable of being used during the market hours of the relevant equity markets;|
|●||“average DAUs” in a given period are to the average of the DAUs on each trading day during that period;|
|●||“China” or the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;|
|●||“churn rate” are to the percentage of the decrease in the same paying client cohort between the beginning and ending of a given period divided by the number of paying clients at the beginning of the same period;|
|●||“Class A ordinary shares” are to our Class A ordinary shares, par value US$0.00001 per share;|
|●||“Class B ordinary shares” are to our Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.00001 per share;|
|●||“DAUs” are measured based on the number of user accounts and visitors who access our platform, Futubull, at least once on a given trading day. Some visitors may access Futubull using more than one device on a given trading day and we calculate the number of visitors who access Futubull based on the number of the devices used by the visitors to access Futubull;|
|●||“Futu,” “we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” are to Futu Holdings Limited, our Cayman Islands holding company and its subsidiaries, its consolidated affiliated entities;|
|●||“HK$” and “Hong Kong dollars” are to the legal currency of Hong Kong;|
|●||“HK SFC” are to the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong;|
|●||“MAUs” are measured based on the number of user accounts and visitors who access Futubull at least once during the calendar month in question. Some visitors may access Futubull using more than one device in a given month and we calculate the number of visitors who access Futubull based on the number of the devices used by the visitors to access Futubull;|
|●||“paying clients” are to the clients with assets in their trading accounts with Futu Securities International (Hong Kong) Limited;|
|●||“registered clients” or “clients” are to the users who open one or more trading accounts with Futu Securities International (Hong Kong) Limited;|
|●||“RMB” and “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China;|
|●||“shares” or “ordinary shares” are to our Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares;|
|●||“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “$,” and “dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States; and|
|●||“users” are to the number of user accounts registered with Futubull.|
Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Hong Kong dollars to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Hong Kong dollars in this annual report were made at a rate of HK$7.7534 to US$1.00, the exchange rate as of December 31, 2020 as set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. We make no representation that any Hong Kong dollars or U.S. dollar amounts could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars or Hong Kong dollars, as the case may be, at any particular rate, or at all.
This annual report contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current expectations and views of future events. The forward looking statements are contained principally in the sections entitled “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview” and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects.” Known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, including those listed under “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You can identify some of these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “is/are likely to,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements relating to:
|●||our mission, goals and strategies;|
|●||our future business development, financial conditions and results of operations;|
|●||the trends in, expected growth and the market size of the online and mobile trading and other financial services industry in China, Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore and globally;|
|●||expected changes in our revenues, costs or expenditures;|
|●||our expectations regarding demand for and market acceptance of our products and services;|
|●||our expectations regarding our relationships with users, clients and third-party business partners;|
|●||competition in our industry;|
|●||our proposed use of proceeds;|
|●||the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic;|
|●||relevant government policies and regulations relating to our industry; and|
|●||general economic, business and socio-political conditions in China, Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore and other markets we have businesses.|
These forward-looking statements involve various risks and uncertainties. You should read thoroughly this annual report and the documents that we refer to with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. Important risks and factors that could cause our actual results to be materially different from our expectations are generally set forth in “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview” and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” and other sections in this annual report. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
This annual report contains certain data and information that we obtained from various government and private publications. Although we believe the data and information to be reliable, we have not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of the data and information contained in these publications. Statistical data in these publications also include projections based on a number of assumptions. The online brokerage and related industries may not grow at the rate projected by market data, or at all. Failure of these markets to grow at the projected rate may have a material and adverse effect on our business and the market price of the ADSs. In addition, the rapidly evolving nature of the online brokerage industry results in significant uncertainties for any projections or estimates relating to the growth prospects or future condition of our market. Furthermore, if any one or more of the assumptions underlying the market data are later found to be incorrect, actual results may differ from the projections based on these assumptions. You should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report and have filed as exhibits to this annual report, of which this annual report is a part, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
Item 1. Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers
Item 2. Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable
Item 3. Key Information
A. Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated statement of comprehensive (loss)/income data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 and selected consolidated cash flow data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected consolidated statement of comprehensive (loss)/income data for the year ended December 31, 2016 and 2017, selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and selected consolidated cash flow data for the year ended December 31, 2016 and 2017 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, or U.S. GAAP. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of results expected for future periods. You should read this “Selected Financial Data” section together with our consolidated financial statements and the related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” included elsewhere in this annual report.
For the Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for share and per share data)
Selected Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive (Loss)/Income Data :
Brokerage commission and handling charge income
Brokerage commission and handling charge expenses
Processing and servicing costs
Total gross profit
Research and development expenses(1)
Selling and marketing expenses(1)
General and administrative expenses(1)
Total operating expenses
For the Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for share and per share data)
Others, net (2)
(Loss)/income before income tax benefits/(expenses)
Income tax benefits/(expenses)
Share of loss from equity method investment
Preferred Shares redemption value accretion
Income allocation to participating preferred shareholders
Net (loss)/income attributable to ordinary shareholder of the Company
Other comprehensive (loss)/income, net of tax
Foreign currency translation adjustment
Total comprehensive (loss)/income
Net (loss)/income per share attributable to ordinary shareholder of the Company
Net (loss)/income per ADS
Weighted average number of ordinary shares used in computing net (loss)/income per share
For the Year Ended December 31,
Selling and marketing expenses
Research and development expenses
General and administrative expenses
Effective from January 1, 2020, we adopted FASB ASC Topic 326—“Financial Instruments—Credit Losses,” or ASC Topic 326 which replaced the incurred loss methodology with the current expected credit loss methodology. We adopted ASC Topic 326 using the modified retrospective approach for all in-scope assets. For the year ended December 31, 2020, expected credit loss expenses of HK$9.1 million (US$1.2 million) resulting from the assessment of credit losses for the loans and advances under ASC Topic 326 was recognized in Others, net.
The following table presents our selected consolidated balance sheet data as of the dates indicated:
As of December 31,
Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents
Cash held on behalf of clients
Available-for-sale financial securities
Equity method investment
Amounts due from related parties
Loans and advances
Fund management companies and fund distributors
Operating lease right-of-use assets
Amounts due to related parties
Fund management companies and fund distributors
Securities sold under agreements to repurchase
Operating lease liabilities
Accrued expenses and other liabilities
Total mezzanine equity
Total shareholders’ (deficit)/equity
Total liabilities, mezzanine equity and shareholders’ equity
The following table presents our selected consolidated cash flow data for the periods indicated:
For the Year Ended December 31,
Selected Consolidated Cash Flow Data:
Net cash generated from operating activities
Net cash used in investing activities
Net cash generated from financing activities
Effect of exchange rate changes on cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash
Net increase in cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at beginning of the year
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at end of the year
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We have a limited operating history which makes it difficult to evaluate our future prospects.
We launched our online brokerage business in 2012 and experienced significant growth since 2015. Between 2012 and 2015, we focused on continuously improving our platform and technology infrastructure. As our business is built on cutting-edge technology and a majority of our staff come from internet and technology companies, which differentiate us from traditional brokers, we have limited experience in most aspects of our business operation, such as trading, margin financing and securities lending. In addition, we launched our fund distribution platform in August 2019 and have limited experience in serving our current user and client base. We have also seen significant growth in our U.S. operations. As our business develops and as we respond to competition, we may continue to introduce new service offerings, make adjustments to our existing services, or make adjustments to our business operation in general. Any significant change to our business model that does not achieve expected results may have a material and adverse impact on our financial condition and results of operations. It is therefore difficult to effectively assess our future prospects.
The online brokerage and wealth management industries may not develop as expected. Prospective users and clients of our services may not be familiar with the development of online brokerage and wealth management markets and may have difficulty distinguishing our services from those of our competitors. Convincing prospective users and clients of the value of using our services is critical to increasing the amount of transactions conducted through our platform and to the success of our business.
You should consider our business and prospects in light of the risks and challenges we encounter or may encounter given the rapidly evolving market in which we operate and our limited operating history. These risks and challenges include our ability to, among other things:
|●||manage our future growth;|
|●||navigate a complex and evolving regulatory environment;|
|●||offer personalized and competitive online brokerage, wealth management and other financial services;|
|●||increase the utilization of our services by existing and new users;|
|●||offer attractive commission fees while driving the growth and profitability of our business;|
|●||maintain and enhance our relationships with our business partners, including funding partners for our margin financing business and fund companies for our wealth management business;|
|●||enhance our technology infrastructure to support the growth of our business and maintain the security of our system and the confidentiality of the information provided and utilized across our system;|
|●||improve our operational efficiency;|
|●||attract, retain and motivate talented employees to support our business growth;|
|●||navigate economic condition and fluctuation; and|
|●||defend ourselves against legal and regulatory actions, such as actions involving intellectual property or privacy claims.|
Our historical growth rates may not be indicative of our future growth.
We have experienced rapid growth in our business and operations since our inception. Our total revenues increased by 30.9% from HK$811.3 million in 2018 to HK$1,061.6 million in 2019, and further by 211.9% from HK$1,061.6 million in 2019 to HK$3,310.8 million (US$427.0 million) in 2020. However, our historical growth rates may not be indicative of our future growth, and we cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain similar growth rates in the future. If our growth rate declines, investors’ perceptions of our business and business prospects may be adversely affected and the market price of the ADSs could decline. You should consider our prospects in light of the risks and uncertainties that fast-growing companies with limited operating histories in a quickly-evolving industry may encounter.
We may not be able to manage our expansion effectively. Continuous expansion may increase the complexity of our business and place a strain on our management, operations, technical systems, financial resources and internal control functions. Our current and planned personnel, systems, resources and controls may not be adequate to support and effectively manage our future operations. We upgrade our systems from time to time to cater to the need of launching new services and executing increasing trading volume, and the process of upgrading our current systems may disrupt our ability to timely and accurately process information, which could adversely affect our results of operations and cause harm to our business.
Our entrepreneurial and collaborative culture is important to us, and we believe it has been a major contributor to our success. We may have difficulties maintaining our culture to meet the needs of our future and evolving operations as we continue to grow, in particular as we grow internationally. In addition, our ability to maintain our culture as a public company, with changes in policies, practices, corporate governance and management requirements, may be challenging. Failure to maintain our culture could have a material adverse effect on our business.
We are subject to extensive and evolving regulatory requirements in the markets we operate in, non-compliance with which may result in penalties, limitations and prohibitions on our future business activities or suspension or revocation of our licenses and trading rights, and consequently may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, operations and prospects. In addition, we are involved in ongoing inquiries by several regulators.
We are subject to extensive regulations and the markets in which we operate including Hong Kong, the United States and Singapore are highly regulated. However, the online-based brokerage service industry (including, for example, the use of cloud-based operating, computing and record keeping technology as well as biometric identification technology) is at a relatively early stage of development, and applicable laws, regulations and other requirements may be changed and adopted from time to time. Our business operations in Hong Kong are subject to applicable Hong Kong laws, regulations, guidelines, circulars, and other regulatory guidance, or collectively the HK Brokerage Service Rules, including, for example, the SFO and its subsidiary legislation. These HK Brokerage Service Rules set out the licensing requirements, regulate our operational activities and standards, and impose requirements such as maintaining minimum liquidity or capital along with other filing, record keeping and reporting obligations relevant to our business operations. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in Hong Kong.” In addition, our operations in the United States are subject to applicable United States law, rules and regulatory guidance, or the US Brokerage Regulations, including, for example, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, or the Exchange Act, rules and guidance adopted under the Exchange Act by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC and rules and guidance adopted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in the United States.” Also, our operations in Singapore are subject to applicable Singapore laws. This would include the Securities and Futures Act, and its subsidiary legislation such as the Securities and Futures (Licensing and Conduct of Business) Regulations. In Singapore, we hold a capital markets services license issued by the Singapore regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, or the MAS, and we are required to abide by relevant regulatory notices and guidelines issued by the MAS. Collectively, these laws and regulatory requirements, or the SG Licensing Requirements, establish a framework within which we carry out our local business operations. Failure to comply with applicable laws and regulations in markets we operate in can result in investigations and regulatory actions, which may lead to penalties, including reprimands, fines, limitations or prohibitions on our future business activities or suspension or revocation of our licenses or trading rights. Any outcome may affect our ability to conduct business, harm our reputation and, consequently, materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
From time to time, Futu Securities International (Hong Kong) Limited, or Futu International Hong Kong, as a HK SFC-licensed corporation may be subject to or required to assist in inquiries or investigations by relevant regulatory authorities in Hong Kong, principally the HK SFC. The HK SFC conducts on-site reviews and off-site monitoring to ascertain and supervise our business conduct and compliance with relevant regulatory requirements and to assess and monitor, among other things, our financial soundness. We are subject to such regulatory examination and inquiries from time to time. If any misconduct is identified as a result of inquiries, reviews or investigations, the HK SFC may take disciplinary actions which would lead to revocation or suspension of licenses, public or private reprimand or imposition of pecuniary penalties against us, our responsible officers, licensed representatives, directors or other officers. Any such disciplinary actions taken against us, our responsible officers, licensed representatives, directors or other officers may have a material and adverse impact on our business operations and financial results. In addition, we are subject to statutory secrecy obligations under the SFO whereby we may not be permitted to disclose details on any HK SFC inquiries, reviews or investigations without the consent of the HK SFC. Futu Inc. and Futu Clearing Inc., as SEC-registered broker-dealers, may be subject to similar examinations and regulatory actions initiated by the SEC, FINRA or the various state regulatory authorities in the United States. Futu Singapore Pte. Ltd., as a capital markets services licensee in Singapore, may be subject to similar examinations and regulatory actions initiated by the MAS or other relevant regulatory authorities in Singapore.
As of the date of this annual report, we are involved in ongoing regulatory inquiries by several regulators. For example, Futu International Hong Kong is involved in ongoing regulatory inquiries by the HK SFC for matters including, among others, client onboarding process. We are unable to accurately predict the outcome of the inquiries because of their ongoing nature. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Ongoing Regulatory Actions.” There remains a risk that on conclusion of the inquiries, the HK SFC may identify misconduct or material non-compliance and decide to proceed with investigation and take regulatory actions, which may include, among other things, reprimands, fines, limitations or prohibitions on our future business activities or suspension or revocation of Futu International Hong Kong’s licenses and trading rights. There also remains a risk that we may not be able to rectify our practices to be in compliance with relevant HK Brokerage Service Rules following the identification of any such misconduct or material non-compliance, which may result in the HK SFC taking additional regulatory actions against us in the forms described above. If any such outcome were to arise, there may be a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial conditions and prospects. Our reputation may also be harmed.
Our online client onboarding procedures do not strictly follow the specified steps set out by the relevant authorities in Hong Kong, which may subject us to regulatory actions, which may include, in addition to remediation, reprimands, fines, limitations or prohibitions on our future business activities and/or suspension or revocation of Futu International Hong Kong’s licenses and trading rights.
As online-based brokerage services in Hong Kong and China and, in particular, the technologies and practices involved in online account opening services are at relatively early stages of development, applicable laws, regulations, guidelines, circulars and other regulatory guidance with regard to online client onboarding procedures remain evolving and are subject to further changes. Residents in China can open Hong Kong or U.S. trading accounts with us by following the online application procedures summarized in this annual report. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Our Services—Trading, Clearing and Settlement—Account Opening.” Our system supports the online verification procedures, among others, based on a prospective client’s PRC identification information and debit card issued by a bank based in China. The HK SFC’s current position on the expressly specified non-face-to-face approaches for account opening, including online account opening, in light of HK SFC regulatory requirements is summarized in paragraph 5.1 of the SFC Code of Conduct and SFC circulars dated May 12, 2015, October 24, 2016, July 12, 2018 and June 28, 2019 (together, the “SFC Circulars”). There are various methods set out under the SFC Circulars for online account opening, one of which is to use e-certification services provided by certification authorities outside Hong Kong whose electronic signature certificates have obtained mutual recognition status accepted by the Hong Kong government and the relevant local government when onboarding clients. As our current online client onboarding procedures for residents in China as discussed above do not strictly follow the specified methods set out in the SFC Circulars, we have been testing a new e-certification procedure through a mutually recognized certification authority as part of our online onboarding process since 2019. We have not implemented such procedure on a wide basis. We are currently involved in ongoing inquiries by the HK SFC regarding our online client onboarding procedures. If we are required by the HK SFC to adopt the e-certification procedures or remediate our account opening procedures for all of our existing clients retroactively or to make further adjustments to our online client onboarding process, there is no assurance that we will be able to achieve full implementation timely, or at all, and we will need to incur extensive time and costs and our customer experience may be adversely impacted. As a result, such remediation or adjustments may have a material adverse impact on our operations, business prospects, user experience and client acquisition and retention. If our online client onboarding procedures are determined by the HK SFC to be, or have been, not in compliance with the applicable laws, regulations, guidelines, circulars and other regulatory guidance, we may be subject to regulatory actions, which may include, in addition to remediation, reprimands, fines, limitations or prohibitions on our future business activities and/or suspension or revocation of Futu International Hong Kong’s licenses and trading rights.
We do not hold any license or permit for providing securities brokerage business in China. Although we do not believe we engage in securities brokerage business in China, there remain uncertainties to the interpretation and implementation of relevant PRC laws and regulations.
Pursuant to the relevant PRC laws and regulations, no entity or individual shall engage in securities business without the approval of the securities regulatory authority of the State Council. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on Securities Business.” We do not hold any license or permit in relation to providing securities brokerage business in China. A significant portion of our technology, research and development, management, supporting and other teams are based in China and a large number of our clients are PRC citizens. However, we do not believe the business we are conducting now through our subsidiaries or consolidated affiliated entities in China is securities brokerage business in China. In the past, we received inquiries relating to our business from certain regulatory authorities in China. We have since then taken measures to modify and enhance our business and platform to be in compliance with the applicable PRC laws and regulations related to securities brokerage business in China. However, we cannot assure you that the measures we have taken or will take in the future will be effective or fully satisfy the relevant regulatory authorities’ requirements. Based on the opinion of our PRC counsel, Han Kun Law Offices, we are not in violation of the applicable PRC laws and regulations related to securities brokerage business in China after such modifications in all material aspects. However, there remain some uncertainties as to how the current and any future PRC laws and regulations will be interpreted or implemented in the context of operating securities related business in China. We cannot assure you that our current operation model, such as redirecting users and clients to open accounts and make transactions outside China, will not be deemed as operating securities brokerage business in China, which may subject us to further inquiries or rectifications. If certain of our activities in China were deemed by relevant regulators as provision of securities brokerage services, investment consulting services and stock options brokerage business in China, we will be required to obtain relevant licenses or permits from relevant regulatory bodies, including the CSRC, and failure of obtaining such licenses or permits may subject us to regulatory actions and penalties, including fines, suspension of parts or all of our operations in the PRC, and temporary suspension or removal of our websites and mobile application in China. In such cases, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
PRC governmental control of currency conversion, cross-border remittance and offshore investment could have a direct impact on the trading volume facilitated by our platform. If the government further tightens restrictions on converting Renminbi to foreign currencies, including Hong Kong dollars and U.S. dollars, and/or deems our practice as in violation of PRC laws and regulations, our business will be materially and adversely affected.
A significant portion of our clients are Chinese nationals. We do not provide cross-border currency conversion services related to Renminbi to our clients, and we require those who would like to trade securities listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange or any major stock exchanges in the United States or purchase any wealth management products through our platform to deposit funding into their respective offshore trading accounts.
In addition, the PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of Renminbi into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, currency remittance out of the PRC. Since 2016, the PRC government has tightened its foreign exchange policies and stepped up its scrutiny of outbound capital movement. Under the current regulatory framework, Chinese nationals are limited to a foreign exchange quota of US$50,000 per year for approved uses only, such as tourism and education purposes and Chinese nationals can only engage in offshore investments under capital items through provided method such as Qualified Domestic Institutional Investors. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on Offshore Stocks Investment.” If the government further tightens the amount of currency exchange allowed for Chinese nationals, increases the control over remittance of currency out of the PRC, and/or specifically prohibits any exchanges for securities-related investment, the trading activities of Chinese nationals through our platform could be restricted, which would significantly reduce the trading volume facilitated by our platform. As our revenues from brokerage commission income depends heavily on the total trading volume facilitated by our platform, the occurrence of any of the above regulatory changes would have a material and adverse impact on our business, operating and financial results.
In addition, under the existing regulations on offshore investment, approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities is required when Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency for the purpose of offshore investment. As we do not provide cross-border currency conversion services related to Renminbi to our Chinese national clients, we do not require our clients to submit evidence of approval or registration from relevant authorities with respect to the foreign currency used for offshore investments. However, since the PRC authorities and the commercial banks designated by the SAFE to conduct foreign exchange services have significant amount of discretion in interpreting, implementing and enforcing the relevant foreign exchange rules and regulations, and for many other factors that are beyond our control and anticipation, we cannot assure you that our operation will not be deemed by relevant authorities as providing currency conversion service or otherwise violating relevant foreign exchange laws and regulations and we have been subject to a fine by relevant authority in the past. While the amount of the fine is immaterial and we have taken measures to ensure our compliance with foreign exchange laws and regulations, we cannot assure you that such measures are sufficient, and we may face more severe consequences, including but not limited to being asked to take additional and burdensome measures to monitor the source and use of the foreign currency funds in the accounts of our clients, verify evidence of approval from relevant authorities or suspend our operations pending an investigation or indefinitely. In such cases, we may face regulatory warnings, correction orders, condemnation and fines, and may not be able to conduct our current business in the future. We may also be subject to regular inspections from relevant authorities from time to time. If such situations occur, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
We face significant competition in the online brokerage and wealth management industries, and if we are unable to compete effectively, we may lose our market share and our results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
The market for online brokerage and wealth management services is relatively new, rapidly evolving and intensely competitive. We expect competition to continue and intensify in the future. We face competition from traditional retail brokerage firms and financial service providers in Hong Kong who, in an effort to satisfy the demands of their clients for hands-on electronic trading facilities, universal access to markets, smart routing, better trading tools, lower commissions and financing rates, have embarked upon building such facilities and service enhancements.
In addition, the online brokerage and wealth management industries exhibit massive opportunities which may attract major internet companies to enter the market by adopting a similar business model, which may significantly affect our market share and sales volume. For example, major international brokerage companies that have large retail online brokerage businesses as well as online brokerage units of commercial banks may take advantage of their established resources and satisfy applicable regulatory requirements through acquisitions and organic development.
We expect competition to increase in the future as current competitors diversify and improve their offerings and as new participants enter the market. We cannot assure you that we will be able to compete effectively or efficiently with current or future competitors. They may be acquired by, receive investment from or enter into strategic relationships with, established and well-financed companies or investors, which would help enhance their competitiveness. Furthermore, the current competitors and new entrants in the online brokerage and wealth management industries may also seek to develop new service offerings, technologies or capabilities that could render some of the services that we offer obsolete or less competitive, and some of them may adopt more aggressive pricing policies or devote greater resources to marketing and promotional campaigns than we do. The occurrence of any of these circumstances may hinder our growth and reduce our market share, and thus our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
If we are unable to retain existing clients or attract new clients to increase their trading volume, or if we fail to offer services to address the needs of our clients as they evolve, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We derive a significant portion of our revenues from our online brokerage services provided to our clients. To maintain the high growth momentum of our platform, we depend on retaining current clients and attracting more new clients. If there is insufficient demand for our online brokerage, margin financing and wealth management services, we might not be able to maintain and increase our trading volume and revenues as we expect, and our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
Our success depends largely on our ability to retain existing clients, in particular those that have highly frequent transactions. Our clients may not continue to place trading orders or increase the level of their trading activities through our platform if we cannot match the prices offered by other market players or if we fail to deliver satisfactory services. Failure to deliver services in a timely manner at competitive prices with satisfactory experience will cause our clients to lose confidence in us and use our platform less frequently or even stop using our platform altogether, which in turn will materially and adversely affect our business. Even if we are able to provide high-quality and satisfactory services through our platform in a timely manner and at favorable price terms, we cannot assure you that we will be able to retain existing clients, encourage repeat and increase trading transactions due to reasons out of our control, such as our clients’ personal financial reasons or the deterioration of the capital markets condition.
If we are unable to maintain or increase our client retention rates or generate new clients in a cost-effective manner, our business, financial condition and results of operations would likely be adversely affected. Historically, we incurred HK$98.1 million, HK$164.7 million and HK$385.3 million (US$49.7 million) in selling and marketing expenses, representing 12.1%, 15.5% and 11.6% of our total revenues in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Although we have spent significant financial resources on marketing expenses and plan to continue to do so, these efforts may not be cost-effective to attract new clients. We cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain or grow our client base in a cost-effective way.
We must stay abreast of the needs and preferences of our clients to serve their evolving trading needs as their investment demands change. If we fail to retain our existing clients by offering services that cater to their evolving investment and trading needs, we may not be able to maintain and continue to grow the trading volume facilitated by our platform, and our business and results of operations may be adversely affected. In addition, if we are unable to maintain, enhance or develop the methods we use to retain clients, the costs of client retention will significantly increase, and our ability to retain clients may be harmed.
Similar to other brokerage and financial services providers, we cannot guarantee the profitability of the investment made by clients through our platform. The profitability of our clients’ investment is directly affected by elements beyond our control, such as economic and political conditions, broad trends in business and finance, changes in volume of securities transactions, changes in the markets in which such transactions occur and changes in how such transactions are processed. We provide a social community to facilitate the provision of financial and market information. Although these materials and commentaries contain prominent disclaimers, our clients may seek to hold us responsible when they use such information to make trading decisions and suffer financial loss on their trades, or if their trades are not as profitable as they have expected. Furthermore, it is possible that some clients could solely rely on certain predictive statements made by other clients on our platform, ignoring our alert warnings that clients should make their own investment judgment and should not predict future performance based on historical records. As a result, the financial loss of our clients may affect our performance in terms of transaction volumes and revenues as clients decide to abort trading. In addition, some clients who have suffered substantial losses through our platform may blame our platform, seek to recover their damages from us or bring lawsuits against us.
Because our revenues and profitability depend largely on clients’ trading volume, they are prone to significant fluctuations and are difficult to predict.
Our revenues and profitability depend in part on the level of trading activity of the securities of our clients, which are often affected by factors beyond our control, including economic and political conditions, broad trends in business and finance and changes in the markets in which such transactions occur. Weaknesses in the markets in which we operate, including economic slowdowns, have historically resulted in reduced trading volumes for us. Declines in trading volumes generally result in lower revenues from transaction execution activities. Lower levels of volatility generally have the same directional impact. Declines in market values of securities or other financial instruments can also result in illiquid markets, which can also result in lower revenues and profitability from transaction execution activities. Lower price levels of securities and other financial instruments, as well as compressed bid/ask spreads, which often follow lower pricing, can further result in reduced revenues and profitability. These factors can also increase the potential for losses on securities or other financial instruments held in inventory and failures of buyers and sellers to fulfill their obligations and settle their trades, as well as claims and litigation. Any of the foregoing factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Our business is also subject to general economic and political conditions, in particular the economic and political conditions in Hong Kong, the PRC and the United States, such as macroeconomic and monetary policies, legislation and regulations affecting the financial and securities industries, upward and downward trends in the business and financial sectors, inflation, currency fluctuations, availability of short-term and long-term funding sources, cost of funding and the level and volatility of interest rates. For example, volatility and drops in stock market performance and uncertainties in macroeconomic conditions caused by global calamities such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and/or eruptions of regional tensions could negatively impact our revenues and profitability. As a result of these risks, our income and operating results may be subject to significant fluctuations. See “—A sustained outbreak of the COVID-19 virus could have a material adverse impact on our business, operating results and financial condition.”
A sustained outbreak of the COVID-19 virus could have a material adverse impact on our business, operating results and financial condition.
There has been a sustained outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in China and globally. Since 2020, governments in China and around the globe have taken measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For example, in early 2020, in response to intensifying efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government took a number of actions, which included extending the Chinese New Year holiday, quarantining individuals infected with or suspected of having COVID-19, prohibiting residents from free travel, encouraging employees of enterprises to work remotely from home and cancelling public activities, among others. The COVID-19 has also resulted in temporary closure of many corporate offices across China. In addition, as the outbreak continues to threaten global economies, it may continue to cause significant market volatility and declines in general economic activities.
We have taken a series of measures in response to the outbreak to protect our employees, including, among others, temporary closure of some offices, remote working arrangements for our employees and travel restrictions or suspension. In general, while these measures reduced the efficiency of our operations, we were not significantly impacted in 2020 and have benefitted from an increase in funds flow and trading volume due to clients’ switching to online trading when physical, offline facilities were closed. We cannot predict whether this increase in business activity will continue after clients are once again able to visit physical facilities. The extent to which COVID-19 impacts our results of operations in 2021 will depend on the future developments of the pandemic, including new information concerning the availability of vaccines and the global severity of and actions taken to contain the pandemic, which are highly uncertain and unpredictable. In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that the pandemic harms the Chinese and global economies in general.
Any potential impact on our results will depend on, to a large extent, future developments and new information that may emerge regarding the duration and severity of the COVID-19 and the actions taken by government authorities and other entities to contain the COVID-19 or treat its impact, almost all of which are beyond our control. While many of the restrictions on movement within China have been relaxed, there is great uncertainty as to the future progress of the disease globally. Before vaccines are made available to the general public, any relaxation of restrictions on economic and social life may lead to new cases which may lead to the re-imposition of restrictions. Given the general slowdown in global economic conditions, volatility in the capital markets as well as the general negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the brokerage and wealth management industry, we cannot assure that we can launch new products and services in time or that we can maintain the growth rate we have experienced. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial impact related to the pandemic of and response to the coronavirus cannot be accurately estimated at this time, and we cannot assure you that our financial condition and operating results for 2021 will not be adversely affected. For a more detailed description on the expected impact of COVID-19 on our business, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Impact of COVID-19 and Our Responses and Opportunities.”
We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics and other outbreaks, which could significantly disrupt our operations and adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operation.
In addition to the impact of COVID-19, our business could be adversely affected by the effects of Ebola virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, or other epidemics. Our business operations could be disrupted if any of our employees is suspected of having Ebola virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, SARS, or other epidemics, since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be disinfected. In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that any of these epidemics harms the Chinese and global economy in general.
We are also vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. Fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins, war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide products and services through our platform.
In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that any health epidemic, natural disaster or other calamities harms the Chinese and global economies in general. Our headquarters are located in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, where most of our management and employees currently reside. Most of our system hardware and back-up systems are hosted in facilities located in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Consequently, if any natural disasters, health epidemics or other public safety concerns were to affect Shenzhen and/or Hong Kong, our operation may experience material disruptions, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our current level of commission and fee rates may decline in the future. Any material reduction in our commission or fee rates could reduce our profitability.
We derive a significant portion of our revenues from commissions and fees paid by our clients for trading securities through our platform. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, our brokerage commission income and handling charge income amounted to HK$408.0 million, HK$511.4 million and HK$1,990.1 million (US$256.7 million), representing 50.3%, 48.2% and 60.1% of our total revenues during the same years, respectively. We may experience pressure on our commission or fee rates as a result of competition we face in the online brokerage service industry. Some of our competitors offer a broader range of services to a larger client base and enjoy higher trading volumes than we do. Consequently, our competitors may be able and willing to offer trading services at lower commission or fee rates than we currently offer or may be able to offer. For example, some brokers in Hong Kong and the United States offer zero commission fees or similar policies to attract retail securities investors. As a result of this pricing competition, we could lose both market share and revenues. We believe that any downward pressure on commission or fee rates would likely continue and intensify as we continue to develop our business and gain recognition in our markets. A decline in our commission or fee rates could lower our revenues, which would adversely affect our profitability. In addition, our competitors may offer other financial incentives such as rebates or discounts in order to induce trading in their systems rather than in ours. If our commission or fee rate decreases significantly, our operating and financial results may be materially and adversely affected.
Fluctuations in market interest rates may negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We derive a part of our revenues from charging interests on margin balances in connection with our margin financing and securities lending businesses. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, our revenues from interest income derived from our margin financing and securities lending businesses amounted to HK$226.1 million, HK$258.9 million and HK$571.8 million (US$73.7 million), representing 27.9%, 24.4% and 17.3% of our total revenues during the same years, respectively. For the same years, our interest income derived from bank deposits were HK$123.8 million, HK$187.2 million and HK$208.6 million (US$26.9 million), representing 15.3%, 17.6% and 6.3% of our total revenues during the same years, respectively. The trend of the level of interest rates is an important factor affecting our earnings. A decline in interest rates may have a negative impact on our interest income and thus ultimately adversely impact our total revenues. While we generally derive higher interest income when there is an increase in market interest rates, a rise in interest rates may also cause our interest expenses to increase. If we are unable to effectively manage our interest rate risk, changes in interest rates could have a material adverse effect on our profitability.
Although our management believes that it has implemented effective management strategies to reduce the potential effects of changes in interest rates on our results of operations, any substantial, unexpected or prolonged change in market interest rates could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Also, our interest rate risk modeling techniques and assumptions likely may not fully predict or capture the impact of actual interest rate changes on our balance sheet. For further discussion of how changes in interest rates could impact us, see “Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk—Interest Rate Risk” of this annual report.
We may not be able to develop our margin financing and securities lending business as expected and may be exposed to credit risks related to these businesses. In addition, we need adequate funding at reasonable costs to successfully operate our margin financing business, and access to adequate funding at reasonable costs cannot be assured.
Our margin financing and securities lending businesses may not develop as expected if clients fail to perform contractual obligations or the value of collateral held to secure the obligations is inadequate. We have adopted comprehensive internal policies and procedures designed to manage such risks. For example, once the margin value falls below the outstanding amount of the relevant loan extended as a result of a market downturn or adverse movement in the prices of the pledged securities, we will make a margin call requesting the client to deposit additional funds, sell securities or pledge additional securities to top up their margin value. If the client’s margin value still falls below the required standard, we will initiate our liquidation protection mechanism on a real-time basis to bring the client’s account into margin compliance. Nevertheless, we cannot assure you that we will not be exposed to any credit risks associated with our margin financing and securities lending businesses, and we may experience disputes with our clients after we make the margin calls. In particular, we may not always be able to fully recover the margin value through margin calls and our exposure to credit loss may be exacerbated during periods of high market volatility. See “—Our risk management policies and procedures may not be fully effective in identifying or mitigating risk exposure in all market environments or against all types of risks.”
Moreover, the growth and success of our margin financing business depend on the availability of adequate funding to meet our client demand for loans through our platform. We provided margin financing service for securities listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the major stock exchanges in the U.S., and we provided securities lending services for securities listed on the major stock exchanges in the U.S. As of December 31, 2020, outstanding margin financing and securities lending balance was HK$19.5 billion (US$2.5 billion). We derive the funding for our margin financing business from a variety of sources, including funding secured from commercial banks, other licensed financial institutions and other parties as well as financing generated from our business operations. To the extent there is insufficient funding from institutional funding partners who are willing to accept the credit risk related to the collateral from our clients, the funds available for our margin financing business might be limited and our ability to provide margin financing services to our clients to address their demand for loans would be adversely impacted. In addition, as we strive to offer our clients competitively priced services and the online brokerage market is intensely competitive, we may attempt to further reduce our interest expenses from our funding partners. If we cannot continue to maintain our relationship with these funding partners and obtain adequate funding at reasonable costs, we may not be able to continue to offer or grow our margin financing business. To the extent that our funding partners find the risk-adjusted returns with us less attractive, we may not be able to obtain the requisite level of funding at reasonable costs, or at all. If we are unable to provide our clients with margin loans or fund the loans on a timely basis due to insufficient funding or less favorable pricing compared to those of our competitors, it would harm our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The wealth management products that we offer involve various risks and failure to identify or fully appreciate such risks may negatively affect our reputation, client relationships, results of operations and financial conditions. In addition, we rely on a limited number of wealth management product providers.
We offer our clients access to money market, fixed income, equity, balanced, private funds as well as bonds, catering to different investment targets and risk preferences of our clients. These products often have complex structures and involve various risks, including default risks, interest risks, liquidity risks, market risks, counterparty risks, fraud risks and other risks. In addition, we are subject to regulations in relation to wealth management products offering in different jurisdictions, and there is no assurance that our operation will be deemed as in full compliance with such regulations at all times.
Our success in offering our wealth management products and services depends, in part, on our ability to successfully identify the risks associated with such products and services, and failure to identify or fully appreciate such risks may negatively affect our reputation, client relationships, results of operations and financial conditions. Although we do not guarantee the principal or the return of the wealth management products available through our platform and do not bear any liabilities for any loss to capital invested in the products, we must be cautious of the selection of the financial products we offer and must accurately describe the risks associated with those products for our clients. Although we enforce and implement strict risk management policies and procedures, such risk management policies and procedures may not be fully effective in mitigating the risk exposure for all of our clients in all market environments or covering all types of risks. If we fail to identify and fully appreciate the risks associated with the financial products we offer, or fail to disclose such risks to our clients, or if our clients suffer financial losses or other damages resulting from the financial products we offer, our reputation, client relationships, results of operations and financial conditions will be materially and adversely affected.
We rely on a limited number of third-parties who provide us with wealth management products, and our relationships with these product providers are integral to the smooth operation of our wealth management business. If our relationships with third-party service providers deteriorate or third-party service providers decide to terminate our respective business relationships for any reasons, such as to work with our competitors on more exclusive or favorable terms or if they themselves become our competitors, our operation may be disrupted.
Tensions in international economic relations, in particular those between the U.S. and China, may have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operation.
There have been rising tensions in international economic relations in recent periods, including those between the United States and China. For example, in 2018 and 2019, the United States imposed import tariffs on specified products imported from China, and China has responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on goods exported from the United States. In August 2020, following the PRC National People’s Congress’ passage of Hong Kong’s national security legislation, the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on certain officials of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the central government of China. In the same month, U.S. President Donald J. Trump issued executive orders prohibiting certain transactions with ByteDance Ltd. and WeChat-related transactions with Tencent Holdings Ltd. and the respective subsidiaries of such companies. Rising trade, political and regulatory tension between the United States and China could reduce levels of trades, investments, technological exchanges and other economic activities between the two major economies, which would have a material adverse effect on global economic conditions and the stability of global financial markets. Any of these factors could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.
On August 6, 2020, the President of the United States issued an executive order prohibiting “any transactions that is related to WeChat by any person or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States with Tencent Holdings Ltd., Shenzhen, China, or any subsidiary of that entity, as identified by the Secretary of Commerce under section 1(c) of this order.” The ban is set to come into force starting 45 days after the date of the executive order. As of February 28, 2021, entities directly or beneficially owned by Tencent Holdings Limited owned 22.8% of our outstanding shares and 27.9% of the total voting power of our outstanding shares, and we have certain business collaborations with Tencent. We also have business operations and hold relevant licenses in the United States. While we do not expect that our U.S. operations will be subject to the restrictions imposed by the executive order, we cannot assure you that there will not be rules or further executive orders prohibiting our business collaborations with Tencent. Upon the occurrence of such events, our business will be adversely impacted. In addition, any current and future actions or escalations by either the United States or China may cause global economic turmoil and potentially have a negative impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations, and we cannot provide any assurance as to whether such actions will occur or the form that they may take.
If we fail to respond in a timely and cost-effective manner to the needs of our users and clients or if our new service offerings do not achieve sufficient market acceptance, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our future success will depend partially on our ability to develop and introduce new service offerings to respond to the evolving needs of our users and clients in a timely and cost-effective manner. We provide services in markets that are characterized by rapid technological change, evolving industry standards, frequent new service introductions, and increasing demand for higher levels of client experience. In recent years, we have expanded our service offerings for our users and clients from online brokerage services to margin financing services and further to other tools and functions, including the wealth management service we launched in August 2019, and we may continue to expand our new service offerings in the future. However, we have limited experience in new service offerings, and expansion into new service offerings may involve new risks and challenges that we may not have experienced before. We cannot assure you that we will be able to overcome such new risks and challenges and make our new service offerings successful. Initial timetables for the introduction and development of new service offerings may not be achieved and profitability targets may not prove feasible. External factors, such as compliance with regulations, competition and shifting market preferences, may also impact the successful implementation of our new service offerings. Our personnel and technology systems may fail to adapt to the changes in such new areas or we may fail to effectively integrate new services into our existing operation. We may lack experience in managing our new service offerings. In addition, we may be unable to proceed our operation as planned or compete effectively due to different competitive landscapes in these new areas. Even if we expand our businesses into new jurisdictions or areas, the expansion may not yield intended profitable results. Furthermore, any new service offerings could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of our internal control system. Failure to successfully manage these risks in the development and implementation of new service offerings could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Our ability to anticipate and identify the evolving needs of our users and clients and to develop and introduce new service offerings to address such needs will be a significant factor in maintaining or improving our competitive position and prospects for growth. We may also have to incur substantial unanticipated costs to maintain and further strengthen such ability. Our success will also depend on our ability to develop and introduce new services and enhance existing services for our users and clients in a timely manner. Even if we introduce new and enhanced services to the market, they may not achieve market acceptance.
We believe that we must continue to make investments to support ongoing research and development in order to develop new or enhanced service offerings to remain competitive. We need to continue to develop and introduce new services that incorporate the latest technological advancements in response to evolving user and client needs. Our business and results of operations could be adversely affected if we do not anticipate or respond adequately to technological developments or the changing needs of our users and clients. We cannot assure you that any such investments in research and development will lead to any corresponding increase in revenue.
We depend on our proprietary technology, and our future results may be impacted if we cannot maintain technological superiority in our industry.
Our success in the past has largely been attributable to our sophisticated proprietary technology that has empowered the efficient operations of our platform. We have benefited from the fact that the type of proprietary technology equivalent to which we employ has not been widely available to our competitors. If our technology becomes more widely available to our current or future competitors for any reason, our operating results may be adversely affected.
Additionally, to keep pace with changing technologies and client demands, we must correctly interpret and address market trends and enhance the features and functionality of our technology in response to these trends, which may lead to significant research and development costs. We may be unable to accurately determine the needs of our users and clients or the trends in the online brokerage industry or to design and implement the appropriate features and functionality of our technology in a timely and cost-effective manner, which could result in decreased demand for our services and a corresponding decrease in our revenue. Also, any adoption or development of similar or more advanced technologies by our competitors may require that we devote substantial resources to the development of more advanced technology to remain competitive. The markets in which we compete are characterized by rapidly changing technology, evolving industry standards and changing trading systems, practices and techniques. Although we have been at the forefront of many of these developments in the past, we may not be able to keep up with these rapid changes in the future, develop new technology, realize a return on amounts invested in developing new technologies or remain competitive in the future.
In addition, we must protect our systems against physical damage from fire, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, computer viruses, hacker attacks, physical break-ins and similar events. Any software or hardware damage or failure that causes interruption or an increase in response time of our proprietary technology could reduce client satisfaction and decrease usage of our services.
Unexpected network interruptions, security breaches or computer virus attacks and failures in our information technology systems could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our information technology systems support all phases of our operations and are an essential part of our technology infrastructure. If our systems fail to perform, we could experience disruptions in operations, slower response time or decreased customer satisfaction. We must process, record and monitor a large number of transactions and our operations are highly dependent on the integrity of our technology systems and our ability to make timely enhancements and additions to our systems. System interruptions, errors or downtime can result from a variety of causes, including unexpected interruptions to the internet infrastructure, technological failures, changes to our systems, erroneous or corrupted data, changes in customer usage patterns, linkages with third-party systems and power failures. Our systems are also vulnerable to disruptions from human error, execution errors, errors in models such as those used for risk management and compliance, employee misconduct, unauthorized trading, external fraud, computer viruses, distributed denial of service attacks, computer viruses or cyberattacks, terrorist attacks, natural disaster, power outage, capacity constraints, software flaws, events impacting our key business partners and vendors, and other similar events.
Our internet-based business depends on the performance and reliability of the internet infrastructure. We cannot assure you that the internet infrastructure we depend on will remain sufficiently reliable for our needs. Any failure to maintain the performance, reliability, security or availability of our network infrastructure may cause significant damage to our ability to attract and retain users and clients. Major risks involving our network infrastructure include:
|●||breakdowns or system failures resulting in a prolonged shutdown of our servers;|
|●||disruption or failure in the national backbone networks in China, which would make it impossible for users and clients to access our online and mobile platforms;|
|●||physical or cyber based attacks on our servers and other network infrastructure, which may result in disruptions to our network and damages to our technology infrastructure;|
|●||damage from natural disasters or other catastrophic events such as typhoon, volcanic eruption, earthquake, flood, telecommunications failure, or other similar events; and|
|●||any infection by or spread of computer viruses or other system failures.|
In addition, any network interruptions or inadequacy on the part of our third-party partners may result in disruptions to the services we provide to our users and clients. For example, there have been occasions where some of our clients were not able to timely execute trades because of poor or delayed performances of software, infrastructure or systems of our third party partners, which may be exacerbated by sudden increase in trading or other user activity volume. Such disruptions and other interruptions in the availability of our services could reduce user and client satisfaction and result in a reduction in the activity level of our users and clients as well as the number of clients making trading transactions through our platform. See “— Failure or poor performance of third-party software, infrastructure or systems on which we rely could adversely affect our business.” Furthermore, increases in the volume of traffic on our online and mobile platforms could strain the capacity of our existing computer systems and bandwidth, which could lead to slower response times or system failures. This could cause a disruption or suspension in our service delivery, which could hurt our brand and reputation. We may need to incur additional costs to upgrade our technology infrastructure and computer systems in order to accommodate increased demand if we anticipate that our systems cannot handle higher volumes of traffic and transaction in the future. In addition, it could take an extended period of time to restore full functionality to our technology or other operating systems in the event of an unforeseen occurrence, which could affect our ability to process and settle client transactions. Despite our efforts to identify areas of risk, oversee operational areas involving risks, and implement policies and procedures designed to manage these risks, there can be no assurance that we will not suffer unexpected losses, reputational damage or regulatory actions due to technology or other operational failures or errors, including those of our vendors or other third parties.
Failure or poor performance of third-party software, infrastructure or systems on which we rely could adversely affect our business.
We rely on third parties to provide and maintain certain infrastructure that is critical to our business. For example, a strategic partner provides services to us in connection with various aspects of our operations and systems. If such services become limited, restricted, curtailed or less effective or more expensive in any way or become unavailable to us for any reason, our business may be materially and adversely affected. The infrastructure of our third-party service providers may malfunction or fail due to events out of our control, which could disrupt our operations and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Any failure to maintain and renew our relationships with these third parties on commercially favorable terms, or to enter into similar relationships in the future, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We also rely on certain third-party software, third-party computer systems and service providers, including clearing systems, exchange systems, alternate trading systems, order-routing systems, internet service providers, communications facilities and other facilities. Any interruption in these third-party services or software, deterioration in their performance, or other improper operation could interfere with our trading activities, cause losses due to erroneous or delayed responses, or otherwise be disruptive to our business. In addition, as we work with third parties to execute trading orders for U.S. stocks, our ability to successfully and timely execute these trades for our clients depends on the performance of third parties systems, failure of which may result in potential losses for our clients, which in turn may result in potential claims or litigations brought against us and adversely affect our business and reputation. In addition, if our arrangements with any third party are terminated, we may not be able to find an alternative source of software or systems support on a timely basis or on commercially reasonable terms. This could also have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We rely on a number of external service providers for certain key market information and data, technology, processing and supporting functions.
We rely on a number of external service providers for certain key market information and data, technology, processing and supporting functions. Furthermore, external content providers provide us with financial information, market news, charts, option and stock quotes and other fundamental data that we offer to our clients and users. These service providers face technical, operational and security risks of their own. Any significant failures by them, including improper use or disclosure of our confidential client, employee or company information, could interrupt our business, cause us to incur losses and harm our reputation. Particularly, we have contracted with affiliates of Nasdaq and Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing Limited and a few other institutions to allow our clients to access real-time market information data, which are essential for our clients to make their investment decisions and take actions. If the data provided by such information providers were inaccurate or incomplete, or if such information providers fail to update or deliver the data in a timely manner as provided in the agreements, our clients may suffer losses and our business operations and reputation can be materially and adversely affected.
We cannot assure you that the external service providers will be able to continue to provide these services to meet our current needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner, or that they will be able to adequately expand their services to meet our needs in the future. The external service providers’ ability to consistently provide these services is subject to risks from unfavorable political, economic, legal or other developments, such as social or political instability, changes in governmental policies or changes in the applicable laws and regulations.
An interruption in or the cessation of service by any external service provider as a result of system failures, capacity constraints, financial constraints or problems, unanticipated trading market closures or for any other reason and our inability to make alternative arrangements in a smooth and timely manner, if at all, could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Further, disputes might arise out of or in connection with the agreements regarding our or the service providers’ performance of the obligations thereunder. To the extent that any service provider disagrees with us on the quality of the products or services, terms and conditions of the payment or other provisions of such agreements, we may face claims, disputes, litigations or other proceedings initiated by such service provider against us. We may incur substantial expenses and require significant attention of management in defending against these claims, regardless of their merit. We could also face damages to our reputation as a result of such claims, and our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
If major mobile application distribution channels change their standard terms and conditions in a manner that is detrimental to us, or terminate their existing relationship with us, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We currently rely on Apple’s app store, Google’s Play Store and major PRC-based Android app stores to distribute our mobile applications to users. As such, the promotion, distribution and operation of our application are subject to such distribution platforms’ standard terms and policies for application developers, which are subject to the interpretation of, and frequent changes by, these distribution channels. If these third-party distribution platforms change their terms and conditions in a manner that is detrimental to us, or refuse to distribute our application, or if any other major distribution channel with which we would like to seek collaboration refuses to collaborate with us in the future, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to protect our platform or the confidential information of our users and clients, whether due to cyber-attacks, computer viruses, physical or electronic break-in, breaches by third parties or other reasons, we may be subject to liabilities imposed by relevant laws and regulations, and our reputation and business may be materially and adversely affected.
Our computer system, the networks we use, the networks and online trading platforms of the exchanges and other third parties with whom we interact, are potentially vulnerable to physical or electronic computer break-ins, viruses and similar disruptive problems or security breaches. A party that is able to circumvent our security measures could misappropriate proprietary information or customer information, jeopardize the confidential nature of the information we transmit over the Internet and mobile network or cause interruptions in our operations. We or our service providers may be required to invest significant resources to protect against the threat of security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by any breaches.
In addition, we collect, store and process certain personal and other sensitive data from our users and clients, which makes us a potentially vulnerable target to cyber-attacks, computer viruses, physical or electronic break-ins or similar disruptions. While we have taken steps to protect the confidential information that we have access to, our security measures could be breached. Because the techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, we may not be able to anticipate these techniques or implement adequate preventative measures. Any accidental or willful security breaches or other unauthorized access to our system could cause confidential user and client information to be stolen and used for criminal purposes. Security breaches or unauthorized access to confidential information could also expose us to liability related to the loss of the information, time-consuming and expensive litigation and negative publicity. We have not experienced any material cyber-security breaches or been subject to any material breaches of any of our cyber-security measures in the past. In addition, leakages of confidential information may be caused by third-party service providers or business partners. If security measures are breached because of third-party action, employee error, malfeasance or otherwise, or if design flaws in our technology infrastructure are exposed and exploited, our relationships with users and clients could be severely damaged, we may become susceptible to future claims if our users and clients suffer damages, and could incur significant liability and our business and operations could be adversely affected. Furthermore, our corporate clients may utilize our technology to serve their own employees and customers. Any failure or perceived failure by us to prevent information security breaches or to comply with privacy policies or privacy-related legal obligations, or any compromise of security that results in the unauthorized release or transfer of personally identifiable information or other customer data, could cause our clients to lose trust in us and could expose us to legal claims.
We are subject to governmental regulation and other legal obligations related to the protection of personal data, privacy and information security in the regions where we do business, and there has been and may continue to be a significant increase in such laws that restrict or control the use of personal data. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on Cybersecurity and Privacy.” In China, the Cybersecurity Law became effective in June 2017 and requires network operators to follow the principles of legitimacy in collecting and using personal information. In addition, the Personal Information Security Specification, or China Specification, came into force on October 1, 2020. Although the China Specification is not a mandatory regulation, it nonetheless has a key implementing role in relation to China’s Cybersecurity Law in respect to protecting personal information in China. Furthermore, it is likely that the China Specification will be relied on by Chinese government agencies as a standard to determine whether businesses have abided by China’s data protection rules. Meanwhile, under the China Specification, the data controller must provide the purpose of collecting and using subject personal information, as well as the business functions of such purpose, and the China Specification requires the data controller to distinguish its core function from additional functions to ensure the data controller will only collect personal information as needed. Similarly, Hong Kong and the United States also have their respective data privacy legislation that regulates the collection, use and handling of personal data. Under the relevant legislation, data users are required to comply with various data protection principles in relation to the requirement of lawful and fair collection of personal data, consent of data subjects, retention of personal data, use and disclosure of personal data, security of personal data, personal data policies and practices, and rights to access and correction of personal data.
On October 21, 2020, the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress issued a Draft Personal Information Protection Law, or the Draft Personal Information Protection Law, which integrates the scattered rules with respect to personal information rights and privacy protection. The Draft Personal Information Protection Law aims at protecting the personal information rights and interests, regulating the processing of personal information, ensuring the orderly and free flow of personal information in accordance with the law and promoting the reasonable use of personal information. Personal information, as defined in the Draft Personal Information Protection Law, refers to information related to identified or identifiable natural persons and is recorded by electronic or other means but excluding the anonymized information. The Draft Personal Information Protection Law provides the circumstances under which a personal information processor could process personal information, which include but not limited to, where the consent of the individual concerned is obtained and where it is necessary for the conclusion or performance of a contract to which the individual is a contractual party. It also stipulates certain specific rules with respect to the obligations of a personal information processor, such as to inform the purpose and method of processing to the individuals, and the obligation of the third party who has access to the personal information by way of co-processing or delegation. The SCNPC is still soliciting comments on the Draft Personal Information Protection Law and substantial uncertainties exist with respect to its enactment timetable, interpretation and implementation. Although we may be subject to requirements on protection of personal data, privacy and information security under laws and regulations that may be promulgated in the future from time to time, we cannot assure you that the measures we have taken or will take in the future will be effective or fully satisfy the relevant regulatory authorities’ requirements, and any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with such laws and regulations may result in governmental investigations, fines and/or other sanctions on us.
We have not obtained certain relevant licenses from PRC authorities in connection with some of the information and services available on our platform.
PRC regulations impose sanctions for engaging in disseminating analysis, forecasting, advisory or other information related to securities and securities markets without having obtained the Securities Investment Consultancy Qualifications in China. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on the Securities Investment Consulting Service.” We have not obtained the Securities Investment Consultancy Qualifications in China. Without the required qualifications, we should refrain from as well as explicitly prohibit our users from sharing information related to securities analysis, forecasting or advisory on our platform. However, we cannot assure you that our users will not post articles or share videos that contain analysis, forecasting or advisory content related to securities on our platform. If any of the information or content displayed on our platform is deemed as analysis, forecasting, advisory or other information related to securities or securities markets, or any of our business in the PRC is deemed to be a service providing such information, we may be subject to regulatory measures including warnings, public condemnation, suspension of relevant business and other measures in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Any such penalties may disrupt our business operations or materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, as part of our services, we post videos for investor education purpose and allow certain of our users to upload and share videos on our platforms through NiuNiu Classroom and NiuNiu Community. According to the PRC Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Video Program Services, the provider of audio-video service, such as NiuNiu Classroom or NiuNiu Community, is required to obtain the Audio and Video Service Permission. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulation on Internet Audio-Visual Program Services.” We have not obtained such license for providing internet audio-video program services through our platform in China and may not be able to obtain such license in a timely manner, or at all. We have not received any notices nor have we been subject to regulatory measures from the National Radio and Television Administration as of the date of this annual report. However, if we are required to obtain an Audio and Video Service Permission or other additional licenses or approvals in connection with our video-based services in China, we may be subject to various penalties, such as confiscation of the net revenues that were generated through the unlicensed internet activities, imposition of fines and termination or restriction of such service offering.
Furthermore, PRC regulations require platforms that disseminate internet news and information services to obtain the License for Internet News Information Services. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulation on Internet News Dissemination.” We have not obtained such license and may not be able to obtain such license in a timely manner, or at all. As our platform displays news and information related to the financial market, we may be deemed as engaging in disseminating news and information through the internet and subject to penalties including imposition of fines and termination or restriction of such service offering. In addition, the PRC government may impose specific requirement on financial information services, which may also affect our business and operations.
In August 2019, we officially launched our online wealth management service which gives our clients access to money market, fixed income and equity funds products from leading fund houses. According to the Securities Investment Funds Law, any entity that engages in the fund services, including but not limited to sales, investment consulting, information technology system services, shall register or file with the securities regulatory authority of the State Council. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulation on Fund Sales Business.” We do not hold any license or permit in the promotion of, sales of, purchase of or redemption of funds in China. We do not believe the business we are conducting now through our subsidiaries or consolidated affiliated entities in China should be deemed as fund services in China. However, we cannot assure you that relevant regulatory will take the same view as ours. If certain of our activities in China were deemed by relevant regulators as provision of fund services in China, we may be subject to penalties including imposition of fines and suspend of such fund sales business.
PRC laws and regulations are evolving, and there are uncertainties relating to the regulation of different aspects of the services we provide through our platforms in China. We cannot assure you that we will not be found in violation of any future laws and regulations or any of the laws and regulations currently in effect due to changes in or discrepancies with respect to the relevant authorities’ interpretation of these laws and regulations. In addition, we may be required to obtain additional license or approvals, and we cannot assure you that we will be able to timely obtain or maintain all the required licenses or approvals or make all the necessary filings in the future.
Employee misconduct could expose us to significant legal liability and reputational harm.
We operate in an industry in which integrity and the confidence of our users and clients are of critical importance. During our daily operations, we are subject to the risks of errors and misconduct by our employees, which include:
|●||engaging in misrepresentation or fraudulent activities when marketing or performing online brokerage and other services to users and clients;|
|●||improperly using or disclosing confidential information of our users and clients or other parties;|
|●||concealing unauthorized or unsuccessful activities; or|
|●||otherwise not complying with applicable laws and regulations or our internal policies or procedures.|
If any of our employees engages in illegal or suspicious activities or other misconduct, we could suffer serious harm to our reputation, financial condition, client relationships and ability to attract new clients and even be subject to regulatory sanctions and significant legal liability. If any sanction was imposed against an employee during his employment with us, even for matters unrelated to us, and his ability to perform certain regulated functions at his current employment with us was temporary impaired due to the sanction. We may also be subject to negative publicity from the sanction that would adversely affect our brand, public image and reputation, as well as potential challenges, suspicions, investigations or alleged claims against us. It is not always possible to deter misconduct by our employees or senior management during the ongoing operations of our business or uncover any misconduct occurred in their past employment, and the precautions we take to detect and prevent any misconduct may not always be effective. Misconduct by our employees, or even unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct, could result in a material adverse effect on our reputation and our business.
Any future change in the regulatory and legal regime for the securities brokerage and wealth management industries may have a significant impact on our business model.
Firms in the securities brokerage and wealth management industries have been subject to an increasingly regulated environment over recent years, and penalties and fines sought by regulatory authorities have also increased. This regulatory and enforcement environment has created uncertainties with respect to various types of products and services that historically had been offered by us and that were generally believed to be permissible and appropriate. Legislative changes in rules promulgated by government agencies and self-regulatory organizations in various jurisdictions that oversee our businesses and changes in the interpretation or enforcement of existing laws and rules, such as the potential imposition of transaction taxes, may directly affect our model of operation and profitability.
We had incurred net losses in the past, and we may continue to incur losses in the future.
In 2016 and 2017, we had net losses of HK$98.5 million and HK$8.1 million, respectively. Although we have become profitable since 2018, we cannot assure you that we continue to be profitable in the future. We anticipate that our operating costs and expenses will increase in the foreseeable future as we continue to grow our business, attract users and clients, further enhance and develop our service offerings, enhance our technology capabilities and increase our brand recognition. These efforts may prove more costly than we currently anticipate, and we may not succeed in increasing our revenues sufficiently to offset these higher expenses. There are other external and internal factors that could negatively affect our financial condition. For example, the trading volume facilitated by our platform may be lower than expected, which may lead to lower than expected revenues. Furthermore, we have adopted a share incentive plan in the past and may adopt new share incentive plans in the future, which have caused, and will result in, significant share-based compensation expenses to us. We generate a substantial majority of our total revenues from commission fees charged to clients who trade through our platform. Any material decrease in our commission fees would have a substantial impact on our financial conditions. As a result of the foregoing and other factors, we may continue to incur net losses in the future.
If there is any negative publicity with respect to us, our industry peers or our industries in general, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our reputation and brand recognition plays an important role in earning and maintaining the trust and confidence of high net worth individuals or enterprises that are current or potential users and clients. Our reputation and brand are vulnerable to many threats that can be difficult or impossible to control, and costly or impossible to remediate. Regulatory inquiries or investigations, lawsuits initiated by clients or other third parties, employee misconduct, perceptions of conflicts of interest and rumors, among other things, could substantially damage our reputation, even if they are baseless or satisfactorily addressed. In addition, any perception that the quality of our online brokerage and other financial services may not be the same as or better than that of other online brokerage and financial service firms can also damage our reputation. Moreover, any negative media publicity about the financial service industry in general or product or service quality problems of other firms in the industry, including our competitors, may also negatively impact our reputation and brand. If we are unable to maintain a good reputation or further enhance our brand recognition, our ability to attract and retain users, clients, third-party partners and key employees could be harmed and, as a result, our business and revenues would be materially and adversely affected.
We may not succeed in promoting and sustaining our brand, which could have an adverse effect on our future growth and business.
A critical component of our future growth is our ability to promote and sustain our brand. Promoting and positioning our brand and platform will depend largely on the success of our marketing efforts, our ability to attract users and clients cost-efficiently and our ability to consistently provide high-quality services and a superior experience. We have incurred and will continue to incur significant expenses related to advertising and other marketing efforts, which may not be effective and may adversely affect our net margins.
In addition, to provide a high-quality user and client experience, we have invested and will continue to invest substantial amounts of resources in the development and functionality of our platform, website, technology infrastructure and client service operations. Our ability to provide a high-quality user and client experience is also highly dependent on external factors over which we may have little or no control, including, without limitation, the reliability and performance of software vendors and business partners. Failure to provide our users and clients with high quality services and experience for any reason could substantially harm our reputation and adversely impact our efforts to develop a trusted brand, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects.
Fraudulent or illegal activities on our platform could negatively impact our brand and reputation and cause the loss of users and clients. As a result, our business may be materially and adversely affected.
We have implemented stringent internal control policies, insider trading, anti-money laundering and other anti-fraud rules and mechanisms on our platform. Nevertheless, we remain subject to the risk of fraudulent or illegal activities both on our platform and associated with our users and clients, funding and other business partners, and third parties handling user and client information. Our resources, technologies and fraud detection tools may be insufficient to accurately detect and prevent fraudulent or illegal activities. Significant increases in fraudulent or illegal activities could negatively impact our brand and reputation, reduce the trading volume facilitated by our platform and therefore harm our operating and financial results. For example, the HK SFC has in the past issued restriction notices to brokers, including us, to prohibit order placing in certain client accounts linked to suspected market misconduct. Any misbehavior of or violation by our clients of applicable laws and regulations could lead to regulatory inquiries and investigations that involve us, which may affect our business operation and prospects. We might also incur higher costs than expected in order to take additional steps to reduce risks related to fraudulent and illegal activities. High-profile fraudulent or illegal activities could also lead to regulatory intervention, and may divert our management’s attention and cause us to incur additional regulatory and litigation expenses and costs. In addition, we could suffer serious harm to our reputation, financial condition, client relationships and ability to attract new clients and even be subject to regulatory sanctions and significant legal liability, if any of our employees engages in illegal or suspicious activities or other misconduct. See “—Employee misconduct could expose us to significant legal liability and reputational harm.” Although we have not experienced any material business or reputational harm as a result of fraudulent or illegal activities in the past, we cannot rule out the possibility that any of the foregoing may occur causing harm to our business or reputation in the future. If any of the foregoing were to occur, our results of operations and financial conditions could be materially and adversely affected.
We face risks related to our “know-your-client” procedures when our clients provide outdated, inaccurate, false or misleading information.
We collect personal information during the account opening and registration process and screen accounts against public databases for purposes of verifying client identity and detecting risks. Although we require our clients to submit documents for proof of their identity and address for completing the account registration and to update such information from time to time, we face risks as the information provided by our clients may be outdated, inaccurate, false or misleading. Despite we have appropriate ongoing monitoring procedures in place to keep customer information up to date pursuant to applicable regulatory requirements, we cannot fully verify the accuracy, currency and completeness of such information beyond reasonable effort. For example, a large number of our clients are holders of the PRC identity cards. As the PRC identity cards are usually effective for more than ten years or some may have no expiration term, some clients may have changed their domicile or citizenship during the terms of their PRC identity cards and therefore be subject to applicable laws and regulations of jurisdictions other than the PRC. In this situation, our provision of products and services to such clients could be in violation of the applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where those clients reside, of which we may have no awareness until we are warned by the relevant supervising authorities. We could still be subject to certain legal or regulatory sanctions, fines or penalties, financial loss, or damage to reputation resulting from such violations.
Our platform and internal systems rely on software and technological infrastructure that is highly technical, and if they contain undetected errors, our business could be adversely affected.
Our platform and internal systems rely on software that is highly technical and complex. In addition, our platform and internal systems depend on the ability of the software to store, retrieve, process and manage immense amounts of data. The software on which we rely has contained, and may now or in the future contain, undetected errors or bugs. Some errors may only be discovered after the code has been released for external or internal use. Errors or other design defects within the software on which we rely may result in a negative experience for users and financial service providers, delay introductions of new features or enhancements, result in errors or compromise our ability to protect data or our intellectual property. Any errors, bugs or defects discovered in the software on which we rely could result in harm to our reputation, loss of users or financial service providers or liability for damages, any of which could adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial conditions.
A significant decrease in our liquidity could negatively affect our business and financial management as well as reduce client confidence in our company.
Maintaining adequate liquidity is crucial to our business operations. We meet our liquidity needs primarily through cash generated by client trading activities and operating earnings, as well as cash provided by external financing. Fluctuations in client cash or deposit balances, as well as changes in regulatory treatment of client deposits or market conditions, may affect our ability to meet our liquidity needs. A reduction in our liquidity position could reduce our users’ and clients’ confidence, which could result in the loss of client trading accounts, or could cause us to fail to satisfy our liquidity requirements. In addition, if we fail to meet regulatory capital guidelines, regulators could limit our operations.
Factors which may adversely affect our liquidity position include having temporary liquidity demands due to timing differences between brokerage transaction settlements and the availability of segregated cash balances, unanticipated outflows of company cash, fluctuations in cash held in banking or brokerage client trading accounts, a dramatic increase in clients’ margin-financing activities, increased capital requirements, changes in regulatory guidance or interpretations, other regulatory changes, or a loss of market or client confidence.
If cash generated by client trading activities and operating earnings is not sufficient for our liquidity needs, we may be forced to seek external financing. During periods of disruptions in the credit and capital markets, potential sources of external financing could be reduced, and borrowing costs could increase. Financing may not be available on acceptable terms, or at all, due to market conditions or disruptions in the credit markets. If we experience any significant decrease in our liquidity, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely impacted.
A significant change in clients’ cash allocations could negatively impact our net interest revenues and financial results.
We derive interest income from depositing un-invested cash balances in our clients’ brokerage trading accounts opened with us at our bank partners. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we generated HK$123.8 million, HK$187.2 million and HK$208.6 million (US$26.9 million) in interest income from bank deposit, respectively, a significant portion of which was derived from uninvested cash balances in our clients’ accounts. As a result, a significant reduction in our clients’ allocation to cash, a change in the allocation of that cash (for example as a result of using cash to purchase mutual funds through our platform), or a transfer of cash out of their accounts opened through our platform could reduce our interest income and negatively impact our financial results.
Our clearing operations expose us to liability for errors in clearing functions.
Our HK SFC-licensed subsidiary, Futu International Hong Kong, provides clearing and execution services for our brokerage business involving securities listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange or qualified under the Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Connect. Our U.S. subsidiary, Futu Clearing Inc., has been approved to provide clearing and settlement services for securities transactions in the U.S. financial markets. Clearing and execution services include the confirmation, receipt, settlement, delivery and record-keeping functions involved in securities transactions. Clearing brokers also assume direct responsibility for the possession or control of client securities and other assets and the clearing of client securities transactions. However, clearing brokers also must rely on third-party clearing system and organizations, such as Hong Kong’s Central Clearing and Settlement System, or CCASS, and the Depositary Trust Clearing Corporation and its subsidiaries in the United States, in settling client securities transactions. Clearing brokers are also responsible for protecting client assets and complying with relevant customer protecting regulations. Clearing securities firms, such as Futu International Hong Kong and Futu Clearing Inc., are subject to substantially more regulatory oversight and examination than introducing brokers who rely on others to perform clearing functions. Errors in performing clearing functions, including clerical and other errors related to the handling of funds and securities held by us on behalf of clients, could lead to regulatory fines and civil penalties as well as losses and liability in related legal proceedings brought by clients and others.
Our corporate actions are substantially controlled by our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Mr. Leaf Hua Li, who has the ability to control or exert significant influence over important corporate matters that require approval of shareholders, which may deprive you of an opportunity to receive a premium for your ADSs and materially reduce the value of your investment.
As of February 28, 2021, Mr. Leaf Hua Li, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, beneficially owned 37.2% of our outstanding shares and 68.0% of the total voting power of our outstanding shares. Accordingly, Mr. Li has significant influence in determining the outcome of any corporate transaction or other matter submitted to the shareholders for approval, including mergers, consolidations, election of directors and other significant corporate actions. This concentration of ownership may also discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could deprive our shareholders of an opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and might reduce the price of the ADSs. These actions may be taken even if they are opposed by our other shareholders, including the holders of the ADSs.
Our success depends on the continuing service of our key employees, including our senior management members and other talent, who are highly sought after in the market. If we fail to hire, retain and motivate our key employees, our business may suffer.
Our key executives have substantial experience and have made significant contributions to our business, and our continued success is dependent upon the retention of our key management executives, as well as the services provided by our staff of trading system, technology and programming specialists and a number of other key managerial, marketing, planning, financial, technical and operations personnel. The loss of such key personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business. Growth in our business is dependent, to a large degree, on our ability to retain and attract such employees.
Competition for well-qualified employees in all aspects of our business, including software engineers and other technology professionals, is intense globally. Our continued ability to compete effectively depends on our ability to attract new employees and to retain and motivate existing employees. If we do not succeed in attracting well-qualified employees or retaining and motivating existing employees and key senior management, our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects may be adversely affected.
Our business growth may be affected by macroeconomic conditions.
The strong growth of China’s offshore investment and wealth management markets in recent years has been mainly driven by the rapid expansion in personal investable assets attributable to the increased number of high net-worth individuals and affluent groups and their increasing demands for geographically diverse investment portfolios. However, slowdowns in the Chinese economy will affect the income growth of such individuals, who are the main investors in the investment and wealth management markets outside China, and add uncertainties to these markets.
In addition, uncertainties about China and global economic conditions and regulatory changes pose a risk as retail investors and businesses may postpone spending in response to credit constraint, rising unemployment rates, financial market volatility, government austerity programs, negative financial news, declines in income or asset values and/or other factors. These worldwide and regional economic conditions could affect and reduce investment behavior and appetites of retail investors and have a material adverse effect on the demand for our products and services. Demand also could differ materially from our expectations as a result of currency fluctuations. Other factors that could influence worldwide or regional demand include changes in fuel and other energy costs, conditions in the real estate and mortgage markets, unemployment, labor and healthcare costs, access to credit, consumer confidence and other macroeconomic factors. These and other economic factors could materially and adversely affect demand for our products and services. Additionally, continued turbulence in the international markets may adversely affect our ability to access the capital markets to meet liquidity needs.
Any failure to protect our intellectual property could harm our business and competitive position.
We believe that trademarks, trade secrets, patents, copyright and other intellectual property we use are critical to our business. We rely on a combination of trademark, patent, copyright and trade secret protection laws in China, as well as confidentiality procedures and contractual provisions to protect our intellectual property and our brand. Intellectual property rights and confidentiality protections in China may not be as effective as those in the U.S. or other countries for many reasons, including lack of procedural rules for discovery and evidence, and low damage awards. Implementation and enforcement of China intellectual property laws have historically been deficient and ineffective. As a result, we may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property rights, which could adversely affect our revenues and competitive position. Because of the rapid pace of technological change, nor can we assure you that all of our proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property will be patented in a timely or cost-effective manner, or at all. Furthermore, parts of our business rely on technologies developed or licensed by other parties, or co-developed with other parties, and we may not be able to obtain or continue to obtain licenses and technologies from these other parties on reasonable terms, or at all.
In addition, while we typically require our employees who may be involved in the development of intellectual property to execute agreements assigning such intellectual property to us, we may be unsuccessful in executing such an agreement with each party who in fact develops intellectual property that we regard as our own. In addition, such agreements may be breached. Accordingly, we may be forced to bring claims against third parties, or defend claims that they may bring against us related to the ownership of such intellectual property.
Furthermore, policing unauthorized use of proprietary technology is difficult and expensive, and we may need to resort to litigation to enforce or defend intellectual property or to determine the enforceability, scope and validity of our proprietary rights or those of others. Such litigation and an adverse determination in any such litigation could result in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. The experience and capabilities of China courts in handling intellectual property litigation varies and outcomes are unpredictable.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may be expensive to defend and disruptive to our business and operations.
Content sourced from third parties is frequently posted on our platform by our employees and users and clients. Although we follow common content management and review practices to monitor the content uploaded to our platform, we may not be able to identify all content that may infringe on third-party rights. We cannot be certain that information posted on our platform and other aspects of our business do not or will not infringe upon or otherwise violate trademarks, copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies or other intellectual property rights held by other parties. We may be from time to time in the future be subject to legal proceedings and claims relating to the intellectual property rights of others. In addition, there may be other parties’ trademarks, copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies or other intellectual property rights that are infringed by our platform or services or other aspects of our business without our knowledge. Holders of such intellectual property rights may seek to enforce such intellectual property rights against us in China, Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore or other jurisdictions. If any infringement claims are brought against us, we may be forced to divert management’s time and other resources from our business and operations to defend against these claims, regardless of their merits.
We may be held liable for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform, which may materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
The PRC government has adopted regulations governing internet access and distribution of information over the internet. Under these regulations, internet content providers and internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying over the internet content that, among other things, violates PRC laws and regulations, impairs public interest or the national dignity of China, contains terrorism, extremism, or content of force or brutality, or is reactionary, obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the revocation of licenses to provide internet content and other licenses, the closure of the concerned websites and criminal liabilities. In the past, failure to comply with these requirements has resulted in the closure of certain websites. The website operator may also be held liable for the censored information displayed on or linked to the website.
In particular, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has published regulations that subject website operators to potential liability for content displayed on their websites and the actions of users and others using their systems, including liability for violations of PRC laws and regulations prohibiting the dissemination of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. The Ministry of Public Security has the authority to order any local internet service provider to block any internet website at its sole discretion, or to stop the dissemination over the internet of information which it believes to be socially destabilizing. Furthermore, we are required to report any suspicious content to relevant governmental authorities, and to undergo computer security inspections. If it is found that we fail to implement the relevant safeguards against security breaches, our business in China may be shut down.
According to the Administrative Provisions on Mobile Internet Applications Information Services which was promulgated by the Cyberspace Administration of China and became effective in August 2016, providers of mobile apps shall not create, copy, publish or distribute information and content through mobile applications that is prohibited by laws and regulations. We are required to adopt and implement management systems of information security and establish and improve procedures on content examination and administration. We must adopt such measures as warning, restricted release, suspension of updates and closing of accounts, keep relevant records, and report unlawful content to competent government authorities. We have implemented internal control procedures screening the information and content on our platform interface to ensure their compliance with these provisions. However, there can be no assurance that all of the information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our mobile apps complies with the requirements of the provisions at all times. If our mobile apps are found to violate the provisions, we may be subject to penalties, including warning, service suspension or removal of our mobile apps from the relevant mobile app store, which may materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
We may be subject to litigation and regulatory investigations and proceedings, and may not always be successful in defending ourselves against such claims or proceedings.
We are subject to lawsuits and other claims in the ordinary course of our business. Our business operations entail substantial litigation and regulatory risks, including the risk of lawsuits and other legal actions relating to information disclosure, client on boarding procedures, sales practices, product design, fraud and misconduct, and control procedures deficiencies, as well as the protection of personal and confidential information of our clients. We may be subject to arbitration claims and lawsuits in the ordinary course of our business. We may also be subject to inquiries, inspections, investigations and proceedings by regulatory and other governmental agencies. See “—We are subject to extensive and evolving regulatory requirements in the markets we operate in, non-compliance with which may result in penalties, limitations and prohibitions on our future business activities or suspension or revocation of our licenses and trading rights, and consequently may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, operations and prospects. In addition, we are involved in ongoing inquiries by several regulators” and “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Ongoing Regulatory Actions.” Actions brought against us may result in settlements, injunctions, fines, penalties, suspension or revocation of license, reprimands or other results adverse to us that could harm our reputation. Even if we are successful in defending ourselves against these actions, the costs of such defense may be significant to us. In market downturns, the number of legal claims and the amount of damages sought in legal proceedings may increase.
In addition, we may face arbitration claims and lawsuits brought by our users and clients who have used our online brokerage or other financial services and found them unsatisfactory. We may also encounter complaints alleging misrepresentation with regard to our platform and/or services. This risk may be heightened during periods when credit, equity or other financial markets are deteriorating in value or are volatile, or when clients are experiencing losses. Actions brought against us may result in settlements, awards, injunctions, fines, penalties or other results adverse to us including harm to our reputation. Even if we are successful in defending against these actions, the defense of such matters may result in our incurring significant expenses. Predicting the outcome of such matters is inherently difficult, particularly where claimants seek substantial or unspecified damages, or when arbitration or legal proceedings are at an early stage. A significant judgment or regulatory action against us or a material disruption in our business arising from adverse adjudications in proceedings against the directors, officers or employees would have a material adverse effect on our liquidity, business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
Our risk management policies and procedures may not be fully effective in identifying or mitigating risk exposure in all market environments or against all types of risks.
We have devoted significant resources to developing our risk management policies and procedures and will continue to do so. Nonetheless, our policies and procedures to identify, monitor and manage risks may not be fully effective in mitigating our risk exposure in all market environments or against all types of risks. Many of our risk management policies are based upon observed historical market behavior or statistics based on historical models. During periods of market volatility or due to unforeseen events, the historically derived correlations upon which these methods are based may not be valid. As a result, these methods may not predict future exposures accurately, which could be significantly greater than what our models indicate. This could cause us to incur losses or cause our risk management strategies to be ineffective. Other risk management methods depend upon the evaluation of information regarding markets, business partner, clients, catastrophe occurrence or other matters that are publicly available or otherwise accessible to us, which may not always be accurate, complete, up-to-date or properly evaluated.
In addition, although we perform due diligence on potential clients, we cannot assure you that we will be able to identify all the possible issues based on the information available to us. If a user or client does not meet the relevant qualification requirements under applicable laws but is still able to use our services, we may be subject to regulatory actions and penalties and held liable for damages. Management of operational, legal and regulatory risks requires, among other things, policies and procedures to properly record and verify a large number of transactions and events, and these policies and procedures may not be fully effective in mitigating our risk exposure in all market environments or against all types of risks.
From time to time we may evaluate and potentially consummate investments and acquisitions or enter into alliances, which may require significant management attention, disrupt our business and adversely affect our financial results.
We may evaluate and consider strategic investments, combinations, acquisitions or alliances to further increase the value of our platforms and better serve our users and clients. These transactions could be material to our financial condition and results of operations if consummated. We may not have the financial resources necessary to consummate any acquisitions in the future or the ability to obtain the necessary funds on satisfactory terms. Any future acquisitions may result in significant transaction expenses and risks associated with entering new markets in addition to integration and consolidation risks. Because acquisitions historically have not been a core part of our growth strategy, we have no material experience in successfully utilizing acquisitions. We may not have sufficient management, financial and other resources to integrate any such future acquisitions or to successfully operate new businesses, and we may be unable to profitably operate our expanded company.
Increases in labor costs in the PRC and Hong Kong and enforcement of stricter labor laws and regulations in the PRC may adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The economy in China and Hong Kong has experienced increases in inflation and labor costs in recent years. As a result, average wages in the PRC and Hong Kong are expected to continue to increase. In addition, we are required by PRC and Hong Kong laws and regulations to make the required contributions for various statutory employee benefits, including pension, housing fund, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance and maternity insurance to designated government agencies and designated pension trustees, and take out employees’ compensation insurance policies for the benefit and protection of our employees. The relevant government agencies may examine whether an employer has paid the required contributions or has in place adequate insurance coverage in relation to the statutory employee benefits, and those employers who fail to make adequate payments may be subject to late payment fees, fines, imprisonment and/or other penalties. We expect that our labor costs, including wages and employee benefits, will continue to increase. Unless we are able to control our labor costs or pass on these increased labor costs, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
If we fail to maintain an effective system of internal controls, we may be unable to accurately or timely report our results of operations or prevent fraud, and investor confidence and the market price of the ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
Prior to our initial public offering, we have been a private company with limited accounting personnel and other resources with which to address our internal controls. In the course of auditing our consolidated financial statements as of and for the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2019, we and our independent registered public accounting firm identified a material weakness in our internal controls. A material weakness is a deficiency, or combination of deficiencies, in internal controls such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness identified related to our lack of sufficient and competent accounting and financial reporting personnel with appropriate knowledge of U.S. GAAP to design and implement robust period-end financial reporting policies and procedures for the preparation of consolidated financial statements and related disclosures in accordance with U.S. GAAP and the financial reporting requirements set forth by the SEC. In the past, we made certain corrections to our interim financial reporting. We have implemented a number of measures to address the material weakness that had been identified. For details of these remedial measures, see “Item 15. Controls and Procedures—Remediation of the Material Weakness in Internal Control over Financial Reporting.” As of December 31, 2020, based on our management’s assessment on the performance of the remediation measures, we determined that the material weakness had been remediated. In the future we may determine that we have additional material weaknesses, or our independent registered public accounting firm may disagree with our management assessment of the effectiveness of our internal controls.
Since our initial public offering, we have become subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or Section 404, requires that we include a report from management on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report on Form 20-F beginning with our annual report for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2020. In addition, as we have ceased to be an “emerging growth company” as such term is defined in the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting.
Our management has concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2020. See “Item 15. Controls and Procedures—Management’s Annual Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting.” However, if we fail to maintain the adequacy of our internal control over financial reporting, as these standards are modified, supplemented or amended from time to time, we may not be able to conclude on an ongoing basis that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Section 404 and our independent registered public accounting firm may not be able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting at a reasonable assurance level. If we fail to achieve and maintain an effective internal control environment, we could suffer material misstatements in our financial statements and fail to meet our reporting obligations, which would likely cause investors to lose confidence in our reported financial information. This could in turn limit our access to capital markets, harm our results of operations, and lead to a decline in the trading price of the ADSs. Additionally, ineffective internal control over financial reporting could expose us to increased risk of fraud or misuse of corporate assets and subject us to potential delisting from the stock exchange on which we list, regulatory investigations and civil or criminal sanctions. We may also be required to restate our financial statements for prior periods. Furthermore, we have incurred and anticipate that we will continue to incur considerable costs, management time and other resources in an effort to comply with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other requirements.
Fluctuations in exchange rates could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and the price of the ADSs.
The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. The value of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. We cannot assure you that Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Any significant appreciation or depreciation of Renminbi may materially and adversely affect our revenues, earnings and financial position, and the value of, and any dividends payable on, the ADSs in U.S. dollars. For example, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars we receive into Renminbi to pay our operating expenses, appreciation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the RMB amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, a significant depreciation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar may significantly reduce the U.S. dollar equivalent of our earnings, which in turn could adversely affect the price of the ADSs.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert Renminbi into foreign currency. As a result, fluctuations in exchange rates may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
Our anticipated international expansion will subject us to additional risks and increased legal and regulatory requirements, which could have a material effect on our business.
Our historical operations have been focused in Hong Kong and the PRC. We have expanded our operations into the United States and Singapore and may expand further into international markets. As we enter countries and markets that are new to us, we must tailor our services and business model to the unique circumstances of such countries and markets, which can be complex, difficult, costly and divert management and personnel resources. In addition, we may face competition in other countries from companies that may have more experience with operations in such countries or with global operations in general. Laws and business practices that favor local competitors or prohibit or limit foreign ownership of certain businesses or our failure to adapt our practices, systems, processes and business models effectively to the client preferences of each country into which we expand, could slow our growth. Certain markets in which we operate have, or certain new markets in which we may operate in the future may have, lower margins than our more mature markets, which could have a negative impact on our overall margins as our revenues from these markets grow over time.
In addition to the risks outlined elsewhere in this section, our international expansion is subject to a number of other risks, including:
|●||currency exchange restrictions or costs and exchange rate fluctuations;|
|●||exposure to local economic or political instability, threatened or actual acts of terrorism and security concerns in general;|
|●||weaker or uncertain enforcement of our contractual and intellectual property rights;|
|●||preferences by local populations for local service providers;|
|●||slower adoption of the internet and mobile devices as advertising, broadcast and commerce mediums and the lack of appropriate infrastructure to support widespread internet and mobile device usage in those markets;|
|●||difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified employees in certain international markets, as well as managing staffing and operations due to increased complexity, distance, time zones, language and cultural differences; and|
|●||uncertainty regarding liability for services and content, including uncertainty as a result of local laws and lack of precedent.|
Such international expansion will also subject us to additional legal and regulatory control and requirements. For example, as a result of our expansion into the United States, we and our U.S. subsidiaries are subject to the US Brokerage Regulations. While we currently do not execute securities trades directly on the U.S. stock exchanges, we aggregate trade instructions from clients for securities traded on the major stock exchanges in the United States and collaborate with qualified third-party brokerage companies who execute and settle trade orders for our clients. Our wholly-owned subsidiary, Futu Inc., is registered with the SEC as a broker-dealer and is a member in good standing of FINRA. Another wholly-owned subsidiary of ours, Futu Clearing Inc., is also a member in good standing of FINRA and Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, or DTCC, with capacity to provide clearing services in the U.S. As we continue to expand our business in the United States, we will be subject to the rules and regulations imposed by the SEC, FINRA and other regulatory authorities. In addition, U.S. domestic and foreign stock exchanges, other self-regulatory organizations and state and foreign securities commissions can censure, fine, issue cease-and-desist orders, or suspend or expel a broker-dealer or any of its officers or employees. Our ability to comply with all applicable laws and rules is largely dependent on our internal system to ensure compliance, as well as our ability to attract and retain qualified compliance personnel. We could be subject to disciplinary or other actions in the future due to claimed noncompliance, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. To continue to expand our services internationally, we may have to comply with the regulatory controls of each country in which we conduct or intend to conduct business, the requirements of which may not be clearly defined. The varying compliance requirements of these different regulatory jurisdictions, which are often unclear, may limit our ability to continue existing international operations and further expand internationally.
Any failure by us or our third-party service providers to comply with applicable anti-money laundering laws and regulations could damage our reputation.
We are required to comply with applicable anti-money laundering and counter terrorism laws and regulations in Hong Kong, the PRC, the U.S., Singapore and other relevant jurisdictions. These laws and regulations require financial institutions to establish sound internal control policies and procedures to guard against money laundering and terrorist financing. Such policies and procedures require us to, among other things, designate an independent anti-money laundering reporting officer, establish a customer due diligence system in accordance with relevant rules, record the details of client activities and report suspicious transactions to the relevant authorities. In addition, we are required to train our personnel and periodically test the adequacy of our policies and procedures.
We have implemented various policies and procedures in compliance with all applicable anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing laws and regulations, including internal controls and “know-your-customer” procedures, for preventing money laundering and terrorist financing. In addition, our institutional partners in Hong Kong and the United States have their own appropriate anti-money laundering policies and procedures with respect to accounts opening services for our clients. Certain of our institutional partners are subject to anti-money laundering obligations under applicable anti-money laundering laws and regulations and are regulated in that respect by the HK SFC, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the PBOC. We have adopted commercially reasonable procedures for monitoring our institutional partners. In the event that we fail to fully comply with the applicable laws and regulations, the relevant government authorities may freeze our assets or impose fines or other penalties on us. There can be no assurance that there will not be failures in detecting money laundering or other illegal or improper activities, which may adversely affect our business, reputation, financial condition and results of operations.
Our policies and procedures may not be completely effective in detecting suspicious activity and preventing other parties from using us or any of our institutional funding partners as a conduit for money laundering (including illegal cash operations) or terrorist financing without our knowledge. If we were to be associated with money laundering (including illegal cash operations) or terrorist financing, our reputation could suffer and we could become subject to regulatory fines, sanctions, or legal enforcement, including being added to any “blacklists” that would prohibit certain parties from engaging in transactions with us, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Even if we and our institutional funding partners comply with the applicable anti-money laundering laws and regulations, we and institutional funding partners may not be able to fully eliminate money laundering and other illegal or improper activities in light of the complexity and the secrecy of these activities. Any negative perception of the industry, such as that arising from any failure of other online brokerage firms to detect or prevent money laundering activities, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents, could compromise our image, undermine the trust and credibility we have established, and negatively impact our financial condition and results of operation. See also “—We are subject to extensive and evolving regulatory requirements in the markets we operate in, non-compliance with which may result in penalties, limitations and prohibitions on our future business activities or suspension or revocation of our licenses and trading rights, and consequently may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, operations and prospects. In addition, we are involved in ongoing inquiries by several regulators.”
Our business may be affected by the Competition Ordinance of Hong Kong.
The Competition Ordinance (Chapter 619 of the Laws of Hong Kong) came into full effect in Hong Kong on December 14, 2015. The Competition Ordinance prohibits and deters undertakings in all sectors from adopting anti-competitive conduct which has the object or effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition in Hong Kong. The key prohibitions include (i) prohibition of agreements between businesses which have the object or effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition in Hong Kong; and (ii) prohibiting companies with a substantial degree of market power, including monopolists, from abusing their power by engaging in conduct that has the object or effect of harming competition in Hong Kong. There are very severe penalties for breaches of the Competition Ordinance, including financial penalties of up to 10.0% of the total gross revenues obtained in Hong Kong for each year of infringement, up to a maximum of three years in which the contravention occurs.
We may face difficulties and may need to incur legal costs in ensuring our compliance with the Competition Ordinance. We may also inadvertently infringe the Competition Ordinance and under such circumstance, we may be subject to fines, claims for damages and/or other penalties, incur substantial legal costs and experience business disruption and/or negative media coverage, which could adversely affect our business, results of operations and reputation.
We have limited business insurance coverage.
We currently carry limited insurance in connection with our brokerage business. However, we do not carry business interruption insurance to compensate for losses that could occur to the extent not required. We also do not maintain general product liability insurance or key-man insurance, and only maintain limited general property insurance. We consider our insurance coverage to be reasonable in light of the nature of our business, but we cannot assure you that our insurance coverage is sufficient to prevent us from any loss or that we will be able to successfully claim our losses under our current insurance policies on a timely basis, or at all. If we incur any loss that is not covered by our insurance policies, or the compensated amount is significantly less than our actual loss, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to obtain additional capital when desired, on favorable terms or at all. If we fail to meet the capital requirement pursuant to the Securities and Futures (Financial Resources) Rules, our business operations and performance will be adversely affected.
We anticipate that the net proceeds we received from our securities offering, together with our current cash, cash provided by operating activities and funds available through our bank loans and credit facilities, will be sufficient to meet our current and anticipated needs for general corporate purposes for at least the next 12 months. However, we need to make continued investments in facilities, hardware, software, technological systems and to retain talented personnel to remain competitive. Due to the unpredictable nature of the capital markets and our industry, we cannot assure you that we will be able to raise additional capital on terms favorable to us, or at all, if and when required, especially if we experience disappointing operating results. If adequate capital is not available to us as required, our ability to fund our operations, take advantage of unanticipated opportunities, develop or enhance our infrastructure or respond to competitive pressures could be significantly limited, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If we do raise additional funds through the issuance of equity or convertible debt securities, the ownership interests of our shareholders could be significantly diluted. These newly issued securities may have rights, preferences or privileges senior to those of existing shareholders. Our broker-dealer and insurance-broker subsidiaries, Futu Securities International (Hong Kong) Limited, Futu Inc., Futu Clearing Inc., Futu Singapore Pte. Ltd., and Futu Insurance Brokers (Hong Kong) Limited are subject to capital requirements determined by their respective regulators. If we fail to maintain the required level of liquid capital, the HK SFC, the SEC or the MAS may take actions against us and our business will be adversely affected.
Internet-related issues may reduce or slow the growth in the use of our services in the future. In particular, our future growth depends on the further acceptance of the internet and particularly the mobile internet as an effective platform for assessing trading and other financial services and content.
Critical issues concerning the commercial use of the internet, such as ease of access, security, privacy, reliability, cost, and quality of service, remain unresolved and may adversely impact the growth of internet use. If internet usage continues to increase rapidly, the internet infrastructure may not be able to support the demands placed on it by this growth, and its performance and reliability may decline. Continuous rapid growth in internet traffic may cause decreased performance, outages and delays. Our ability to increase the speed with which we provide services to users and clients and to increase the scope and quality of such services is limited by and dependent upon the speed and reliability of our users’ and clients’ access to the internet, which is beyond our control. If periods of decreased performance, outages or delays on the internet occur frequently or other critical issues concerning the internet are not resolved, overall internet usage or usage of our web-based services could increase more slowly or decline, which would cause our business, results of operations and financial condition to be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, while the internet and the mobile internet have gained increased popularity in China and Hong Kong as well as other parts of the world as platforms for financial products and content in recent years, many investors have limited experience in trading and using other financial services online. For example, investors may not find online content to be reliable sources of financial product information. If we fail to educate investors about the value of our platform and our services, our growth will be limited and our business, financial performance and prospects may be materially and adversely affected. The further acceptance of the internet and particularly the mobile internet as an effective and efficient platform for trading and other financial services and content is also affected by factors beyond our control, including negative publicity around online and mobile brokerage services and restrictive regulatory measures taken by the PRC government. If online and mobile networks do not achieve adequate acceptance in the market, our growth prospects, results of operations and financial condition could be harmed.
We depend on contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders to operate a limited part of our business in China, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and otherwise have a material adverse effect as to our business.
Although the vast majority of our business is conducted in Hong Kong, we depend on our VIE to conduct a limited part of our operations in China. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we generated 0.4%, 0.2% and 0.3% of our total revenues through our VIE in China, respectively, whose assets accounted for 0.2%, 0.1% and 0.1% of our total assets during the same years, respectively. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our VIE and Its Shareholders.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIE. If our VIE or its shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, our recourse to the assets held by our VIE is indirect and we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce such arrangements in reliance on legal remedies under PRC law. These remedies may not always be effective, particularly in light of uncertainties in the PRC legal system. Furthermore, in connection with litigation, arbitration or other judicial or dispute resolution proceedings, assets under the name of any of record holder of equity interest in our VIE, including such equity interest, may be put under court custody. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that the equity interest will be disposed pursuant to the contractual arrangement or ownership by the record holder of the equity interest.
All of these contractual arrangements are governed by and interpreted in accordance with PRC law, and disputes arising from these contractual arrangements will be resolved through arbitration in China. However, such arbitration provisions do not apply to claims made under the United States federal securities laws. The legal environment in the PRC is not as developed as in other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant time delays or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, it would be very difficult to exert effective control over our VIE, and our ability to conduct our business and our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.” In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant time delays or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
The shareholders of our VIE in China may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
In connection with our operations in China, we depend on the shareholders of our VIE to abide by the obligations under such contractual arrangements. The interests of these shareholders in their individual capacities as the shareholders of our VIE may differ from the interests of our company as a whole, as what is in the best interests of our VIE, including matters such as whether to distribute dividends or to make other distributions to fund our offshore requirement, may not be in the best interests of our company. There can be no assurance that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these individuals will act in the best interests of our company or those conflicts of interest will be resolved in our favor. In addition, these individuals may breach or cause our VIE and its subsidiaries to breach or refuse to renew the existing contractual arrangements with us.
Currently, we do not have arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest the shareholders of our VIE may encounter, on one hand, and as a beneficial owner of our company, on the other hand. We, however, could, at all times, exercise our option under the exclusive option agreement to cause them to transfer all of their equity ownership in our VIE to a PRC entity or individual designated by us as permitted by the then applicable PRC laws. In addition, if such conflicts of interest arise, we could also, in the capacity of attorney-in-fact of the then existing shareholders of our VIE as provided under the power of attorney agreements, directly appoint new directors of our VIE. We rely on the shareholders of our VIE to comply with PRC laws and regulations, which protect contracts and provide that directors and executive officers owe a duty of loyalty to our company and require them to avoid conflicts of interest and not to take advantage of their positions for personal gains, and the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors have a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to act honestly in good faith with a view to our best interests. However, the legal frameworks of China and the Cayman Islands do not provide guidance on resolving conflicts in the event of a conflict with another corporate governance regime. If we cannot resolve any conflicts of interest or disputes between us and the shareholders of our VIE, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
A severe or prolonged downturn in the Chinese or global economy could materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
COVID-19 had a severe and negative impact on the Chinese and the global economy in 2020. Whether this will lead to a prolonged downturn in the economy is still unknown. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global macroeconomic environment was facing numerous challenges. The growth rate of the Chinese economy had already been slowing since 2010, and China experienced negative GDP growth in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of COVID-19. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies which had been adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China, even before 2020. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential for war in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including the surrounding Asian countries, which may potentially have economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economy may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Changes in social conditions, political and economic policies of the PRC government may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
We expect that part of our revenues will continue to be derived from our operations in China. Therefore, our results of operations, financial condition and prospects are influenced by social, economic, political and legal developments in China. China’s economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including with respect to the framework and style of government supervision, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the PRC government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the government. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through strategically allocating resources, controlling the payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies. While the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth over the past decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The Chinese government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations. The growth rate of the Chinese economy has gradually slowed since 2010, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Chinese economy in 2020 is reported to be severe. Any prolonged slowdown in the Chinese economy may reduce the demand for our products and services and materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The trade war between the U.S. and China, and on a larger scale internationally, may dampen growth in China and other markets where the majority of our clients reside, and our activities and results of operations may be negatively impacted.
During 2018, 2019 and 2020, the United States imposed additional import tariffs on specified products imported from China. As a result, China has responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on goods exported from the United States. Although we are not subject to any of those tariff measures, the proposed tariffs may adversely affect the economic growth in China and other markets as well as the financial condition of our clients. With the potential decrease in the spending powers of our target clients, we cannot guarantee that there will be no negative impact on our operations. In addition, the current and future actions or escalations by either the U.S. or China that affect trade relations may cause global economic turmoil and potentially have a negative impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations, and we cannot provide any assurance as to whether such actions will occur or the form that they may take.
There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.
A limited part of our operations is conducted in the PRC and is governed by PRC laws, rules and regulations. Our PRC subsidiaries and VIE are subject to laws, rules and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws, rules and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investment in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to significant degrees of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the nonbinding nature of such decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator significant discretion in how to enforce them, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation.
Any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our VIE do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
The PRC government regulates internet-based businesses through strict business licensing requirements and other government regulations. These laws and regulations also include limitations on foreign ownership of PRC companies that engage in internet-based businesses. Specifically, the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access provides that foreign investors are generally not allowed to own more than 50% of the equity interests in a value-added telecommunication service provider other than an e-commerce service, domestic multi-party communications service, store-and-forward service, and call center service provider which does not apply to us.
Because we are an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are classified as a foreign enterprise under PRC laws and regulations, and our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, Shen Si Network Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd., or Shensi Beijing, Futu Internet Technology (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., Shenzhen Shidai Futu Consulting Co., Ltd. and Shenzhen Qianhai Fuzhitu Investment Consulting Management Co., Ltd. are foreign-invested enterprises, or FIEs. To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we conduct our business in China through Shenzhen Futu, or our VIE, and its affiliates. Shensi Beijing has entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders. In addition, pursuant to the resolutions of all shareholders of Futu Holdings Limited and the resolutions of the board of directors of Futu Holdings Limited, the board of directors of Futu Holdings Limited or any officer authorized by such board shall cause Shensi Beijing to exercise Shensi Beijing’s rights under the power of attorney agreements entered into among Shensi Beijing, Shenzhen Futu and the shareholders of Shenzhen Futu, as well as Shensi Beijing’s rights under the exclusive option agreement between Shensi Beijing and Shenzhen Futu. As a result of these resolutions and the provision of unlimited financial support from our Company to Shenzhen Futu, we are considered to be the primary beneficiary of our VIE for accounting purposes under U.S. GAAP. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our VIE and Its Shareholders.”
We believe that our corporate structure and contractual arrangements comply with the current applicable PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC legal counsel, based on its understanding of the relevant laws and regulations currently in effect, is of the opinion that each of the contracts among our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, our VIE and its shareholders is valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with its terms. However, as there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of PRC laws and regulations, including the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules and the Telecommunications Regulations and the relevant regulatory measures concerning the telecommunications industry, there can be no assurance that the PRC government authorities, such as the Ministry of Commerce, or the MOFCOM, or the MIIT, or other authorities that regulate the telecommunications industry, would agree that our corporate structure or any of the above contractual arrangements comply with PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future. PRC laws and regulations governing the validity of these contractual arrangements are uncertain and the relevant government authorities have broad discretion in interpreting these laws and regulations.
If our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are deemed by the MIIT or the MOFCOM or other regulators having competent authority to be illegal, either in whole or in part, we may lose control of our VIE and have to modify such structure to comply with regulatory requirements. However, there can be no assurance that we can achieve this without material disruption to our business. Further, if our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
|●||revoking our business and operating licenses;|
|●||levying fines on us;|
|●||confiscating any of our income that they deem to be obtained through illegal operations;|
|●||shutting down our services;|
|●||discontinuing or restricting our operations in China;|
|●||imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us to change our corporate structure and contractual arrangements;|
|●||restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds from overseas offering to finance our PRC VIE’s business and operations; and|
|●||taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.|
Furthermore, new PRC laws, rules and regulations may be introduced to impose additional requirements that may be applicable to our corporate structure and contractual arrangements. See “—Uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and its Implementation Regulations and how they may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.” Occurrence of any of these events could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, if the imposition of any of these penalties or requirement to restructure our corporate structure causes us to lose the rights to direct the activities of our VIE or our right to receive its economic benefits, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of our VIE in our consolidated financial statements. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements with Our VIE and Its Shareholders.”
Our contractual arrangements with our VIE may result in adverse tax consequences to us.
We could face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that our contractual arrangements with our VIE were not made on an arm’s length basis and adjust our income and expenses for PRC tax purposes by requiring a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could adversely affect us by (i) increasing the tax liabilities of our VIE without reducing the tax liability of our subsidiaries, which could further result in late payment fees and other penalties to our VIE for underpaid taxes; or (ii) limiting the ability of our VIE to obtain or maintain preferential tax treatments and other financial incentives.
Uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and its Implementation Regulations and how they may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
The National People’s Congress approved the PRC Foreign Investment Law, or the Foreign Investment Law, on March 15, 2019 and the State Council approved the Regulation on Implementing the Foreign Investment Law, or the Implementation Regulations on December 12, 2019, effective from January 1, 2020, to replace the trio of prior laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments. However, since the Foreign Investment Law and the Implementation Regulations are relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to its interpretation and implementation. For instance, under the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refers to the investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by foreign individuals, enterprises or other entities in China. Though it does not explicitly classify contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment, there is no assurance that foreign investment via contractual arrangement would not be interpreted as a type of indirect foreign investment activities under the definition in the future. In addition, the definition contains a catch-all provision which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the State Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. In any of these cases, it will be uncertain whether our contractual arrangements will be deemed to be in violation of the market access requirements for foreign investment under the PRC laws and regulations. Furthermore, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our PRC-resident beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
In July 2014, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, which replaces the previous SAFE Circular 75. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents, including PRC individuals and PRC corporate entities, to register with SAFE or its local branches in connection with their direct or indirect offshore investment activities. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on Foreign Exchange Registration of Overseas Investment by PRC Residents.” SAFE Circular 37 is applicable to our shareholders who are PRC residents and may be applicable to any offshore acquisitions that we may make in the future.
Under SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who make, or have prior to the implementation of SAFE Circular 37 made, direct or indirect investments in offshore special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, are required to register such investments with SAFE or its local branches. In addition, any PRC resident who is a direct or indirect shareholder of an SPV, is required to update its registration with the local branch of SAFE with respect to that SPV, to reflect any material change. Moreover, any subsidiary of such SPV in China is required to urge the PRC resident shareholders to update their registration with the local branch of SAFE to reflect any material change. If any PRC resident shareholder of such SPV fails to make the required registration or to update the registration, the subsidiary of such SPV in China may be prohibited from distributing its profits or the proceeds from any capital reduction, share transfer or liquidation to the SPV, and the SPV may also be prohibited from making additional capital contributions into its subsidiaries in China. In February 2015, SAFE promulgated a Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Foreign Exchange Administration Policy on Direct Investment, or SAFE Notice 13. Under SAFE Notice 13, applications for foreign exchange registration of inbound foreign direct investments and outbound direct investments, including those required under SAFE Circular 37, must be filed with qualified banks instead of SAFE. Qualified banks should examine the applications and accept registrations under the supervision of SAFE. We have used our best efforts to notify PRC residents or entities who directly or indirectly hold shares in our Cayman Islands holding company and who are known to us as being PRC residents to complete the foreign exchange registrations. However, we may not be informed of the identities of all the PRC residents or entities holding direct or indirect interest in our company, nor can we compel our beneficial owners to comply with SAFE registration requirements. We cannot assure you that all other shareholders or beneficial owners of ours who are PRC residents or entities have complied with, and will in the future make, obtain or update any applicable registrations or approvals required by, SAFE regulations. Failure by such shareholders or beneficial owners to comply with SAFE regulations, or failure by us to amend the foreign exchange registrations of our PRC subsidiaries, could subject us to fines or legal sanctions, restrict our overseas or cross-border investment activities, limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to make distributions or pay dividends to us or affect our ownership structure, which could adversely affect our business and prospects.
Furthermore, as these foreign exchange and outbound investment related regulations are relatively new and their interpretation and implementation has been constantly evolving, it is unclear how these regulations, and any future regulation concerning offshore or cross-border investments and transactions, will be interpreted, amended and implemented by the relevant government authorities. For example, we may be subject to a more stringent review and approval process with respect to our foreign exchange activities, such as remittance of dividends and foreign-currency-denominated borrowings, which may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations. We cannot assure you that we have complied or will be able to comply with all applicable foreign exchange and outbound investment related regulations. In addition, if we decide to acquire a PRC domestic company, we cannot assure you that we or the owners of such company, as the case may be, will be able to obtain the necessary approvals or complete the necessary filings and registrations required by the foreign exchange regulations. This may restrict our ability to implement our acquisition strategy and could adversely affect our business and prospects.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding our employee share incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Under the applicable regulations and SAFE rules, PRC resident who participate in an employee stock ownership plan or a stock option plan in an overseas publicly listed company are required to register with SAFE and complete certain other procedures. In February 2012, SAFE promulgated the Notices on Issues concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plans of Overseas Publicly-Listed Companies, or the Stock Option Rules, which replaced the Application Procedures of Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Employee Stock Ownership Plan or Stock Option Plans of Overseas Publicly-Listed Companies issued by SAFE in March 2007. Pursuant to the Stock Option Rules, if a PRC resident participates in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly-listed company, a qualified PRC domestic agent must, among other things, file on behalf of such participant an application with SAFE to conduct the SAFE registration with respect to such stock incentive plan and obtain approval for an annual allowance with respect to the purchase of foreign exchange in connection with the exercise or sale of stock options or stock such participant holds. Such participating PRC residents’ foreign exchange income received from the sale of stock and dividends distributed by the overseas publicly-listed company must be fully remitted into a PRC collective foreign currency account opened and managed by the PRC agent before distribution to such participants. We and our PRC resident employees who have been granted stock options or other share-based incentives of our Company are subject to the Stock Option Rules since our Company becomes an overseas listed company, and we currently withhold income tax from our PRC resident employees in connection with their exercise of options. If we or our PRC resident participants fail to comply with these regulations, or if our PRC resident participants fail to pay or we fail to withhold their income taxes according to relevant laws, rules and regulations, we and/or our PRC resident participants may be subject to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital into our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional incentive plans for our directors, executive officers and employees under PRC law. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Overview of the Laws and Regulations Relating to Our Business and Operations in China—Regulations on Employee Share Incentive Plans of Overseas Publicly-Listed Company.”
PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may delay or prevent us from using the proceeds of our securities offerings to make loans or additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries and our VIE and its subsidiaries.
We are an offshore holding company with some of our operations conducted in China. We may make loans to our PRC subsidiaries and VIE subject to the approval, registration, and filing with governmental authorities and limitation of amount, or we may make additional capital contributions to our wholly foreign-owned subsidiaries in China. Any loans provided by us to our PRC subsidiaries and VIE are subject to PRC regulations and foreign exchange loan registrations. Such loans to any of our PRC subsidiaries and VIE cannot exceed a statutory limit and must be filed with SAFE through the online filing system of SAFE pursuant to the applicable PRC regulations. Any loan to be provided by us to our PRC subsidiaries and VIE with a term of one year or more must be recorded and registered with the National Development and Reform Commission. In addition, a foreign invested enterprise shall use its capital pursuant to the principle of authenticity and self-use within its business scope. The capital of a foreign invested enterprise shall not be used for the following purposes: (i) directly or indirectly used for payment beyond the business scope of the enterprises or the payment prohibited by relevant laws and regulations; (ii) directly or indirectly used for investment in securities or investments other than banks’ principal-secured products unless otherwise provided by relevant laws and regulations; (iii) the granting of loans to non-affiliated enterprises, except where it is expressly permitted in the business license; and (iv) paying the expenses related to the purchase of real estate that is not for self-use (except for the foreign-invested real estate enterprises).
In light of the various requirements imposed by PRC regulations on loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies, we cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals or filings on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans by us to our PRC subsidiary or VIE or with respect to future capital contributions by us to our PRC subsidiary. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to use the proceeds from our securities offerings to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, and we may therefore be subject to PRC income tax on our global income.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, an enterprise established outside the PRC with “de facto management body” within the PRC is considered a “resident enterprise” and will be subject to the enterprise income tax on its global income at the rate of 25%. The implementation rules define the term “de facto management body” as the body that exercises full and substantial control and overall management over the business, productions, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise. The Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-Controlled Offshore-Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the basis of de facto management bodies, or the SAT Circular 82, issued by SAT on April 22, 2009, and amended on December 29, 2017, provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a PRC-controlled enterprise that is incorporated offshore is located in China. Although this circular only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, not those controlled by PRC individuals or foreigners, the criteria set forth in the circular may reflect the SAT’s general position on how the “de facto management body” text should be applied in determining the tax resident status of all offshore enterprises. According to SAT Circular 82, an offshore incorporated enterprise controlled by a PRC enterprise or a PRC enterprise group will be regarded as a PRC tax resident by virtue of having its “de facto management body” in China and will be subject to PRC enterprise income tax on its global income only if all of the following conditions are met: (i) the primary location of the day-to-day operational management is in the PRC; (ii) decisions relating to the enterprise’s financial and human resource matters are made or are subject to approval by organizations or personnel in the PRC; (iii) the enterprise’s primary assets, accounting books and records, company seals, and board and shareholder resolutions, are located or maintained in the PRC; and (iv) at least 50% of board members with voting rights or senior executives habitually reside in the PRC.
We believe that our Cayman Islands holding company, Futu Holdings Limited, is not a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.” If the PRC tax authorities determine that our Cayman Islands holding company is a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, we may be required to withhold a 10% tax from dividends we pay to our shareholders that are non-resident enterprises, including the holders of the ADSs. In addition, non-resident enterprise shareholders, including the ADS holders, may be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 10% on gains realized on the sale or other disposition of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares, if such income is treated as sourced from within the PRC. Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends paid to our non-PRC individual shareholders, including the ADS holders, and any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by such shareholders may be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 20% which in the case of dividends may be withheld at source. Any PRC tax liability may be reduced by an applicable tax treaty. However, it is unclear whether non-PRC shareholders of our company would be able to claim the benefits of any tax treaties between their country of tax residence and the PRC in the event that we are treated as a PRC resident enterprise. Any such tax may reduce the returns on your investment in the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares.
In addition to the uncertainties as to the application of the “resident enterprise” classification, we cannot assure you that the PRC government will not amend or revise the taxation laws, rules and regulations to impose stricter tax requirements or higher tax rates. Any of such changes could materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Dividends payable to our foreign investors and gains on the sale of the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by our foreign investors may become subject to PRC tax.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation regulations issued by the State Council, a 10% PRC withholding tax is applicable to dividends payable to investors that are non-resident enterprises, which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC or which have such establishment or place of business but the dividends are not effectively connected with such establishment or place of business, to the extent such dividends are derived from sources within the PRC. Similarly, any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by such investors is also subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 10%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions, if such gain is regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC. If we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends paid on our Class A ordinary shares or ADSs, and any gain realized from the transfer of our Class A ordinary shares or ADSs, would be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and would as a result be subject to PRC taxation. Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends payable to individual investors who are non-PRC residents and any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by such investors may be subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 20%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions. If we or any of our subsidiaries established outside China are considered a PRC resident enterprise, it is unclear whether holders of the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares would be able to claim the benefit of income tax treaties or agreements entered into between China and other countries or areas. If dividends payable to our non-PRC investors, or gains from the transfer of the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by such investors, are deemed as income derived from sources within the PRC and thus are subject to PRC tax, the value of your investment in the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares may decline significantly.
We and our shareholders face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises or other assets attributed to a Chinese establishment of a non-Chinese company, or immovable properties located in China owned by non-Chinese companies.
In February 2015, SAT issued a Public Notice Regarding Certain Corporate Income Tax Matters on Indirect Transfer of Properties by Non-Tax Resident Enterprises, or SAT Public Notice 7. SAT Public Notice 7 extends its tax jurisdiction to transactions involving transfer of other taxable assets through offshore transfer of a foreign intermediate holding company. In addition, SAT Public Notice 7 provides clear criteria for assessment of reasonable commercial purposes and has introduced safe harbors for internal group restructurings and the purchase and sale of equity through a public securities market. SAT Public Notice 7 also brings challenges to both foreign transferor and transferee (or other person who is obligated to pay for the transfer) of taxable assets. In October 2017, SAT issued the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues Concerning the Withholding of Non-resident Enterprise Income Tax at Source, or SAT Bulletin 37, which came into effect on December 1, 2017. The SAT Bulletin 37 further clarifies the practice and procedure of the withholding of nonresident enterprise income tax. Where a non-resident enterprise transfers taxable assets indirectly by disposing of the equity interests of an overseas holding company, which is an indirect transfer, the non-resident enterprise as either transferor or transferee, or the PRC entity that directly owns the taxable assets, may report such Indirect Transfer to the relevant tax authority. Using a “substance over form” principle, the PRC tax authority may disregard the existence of the overseas holding company if it lacks a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of reducing, avoiding or deferring PRC tax. As a result, gains derived from such indirect transfer other than transfer of Shares of ADSs acquired and sold on public markets may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax, and the transferee or other person who is obligated to pay for the transfer is obligated to withhold the applicable taxes, currently at a rate of 10%. Both the transferor and the transferee may be subject to penalties under PRC tax laws if the transferee fails to withhold the taxes and the transferor fails to pay the taxes.
We face uncertainties as to the reporting and other implications of certain past and future transactions that involve PRC taxable assets, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries and investments. Our company may be subject to filing obligations or taxed if our company is transferor in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company is transferee in such transactions, under SAT Public Notice 7 or SAT Bulletin 37, or both.
We are subject to PRC restrictions on currency exchange.
Some of our revenues and expenses are denominated in Renminbi. The Renminbi is currently convertible under the “current account,” which includes dividends, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but not under the “capital account,” which includes foreign direct investment and loans, including loans we may secure from our onshore subsidiaries or VIE. Currently, certain of our PRC subsidiaries may purchase foreign currency for settlement of “current account transactions,” including payment of dividends to us, without the approval of the SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, the relevant PRC governmental authorities may limit or eliminate our ability to purchase foreign currencies in the future for current account transactions. Foreign exchange transactions under the capital account remain subject to limitations and require approvals from, or registration with, the SAFE and other relevant PRC governmental authorities. Since a part of our future net income and cash flow will be denominated in Renminbi, any existing and future restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to utilize cash generated in Renminbi to fund our business activities outside of the PRC or pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of the ADSs, and may limit our ability to obtain foreign currency through debt or equity financing for our subsidiaries and VIE.
If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling non-tangible assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts such as the leases and sales contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant local branch of the market supervision administration.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops and the chops of our PRC entities, we generally store these items in secured locations accessible only by the authorized personnel of each of our PRC subsidiary and consolidated entities. Although we monitor such authorized personnel, there is no assurance such procedures will prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. Accordingly, if any of our authorized personnel misuse or misappropriate our corporate chops or seals, we could encounter difficulties in maintaining control over the relevant entities and experience significant disruption to our operations. If a designated legal representative obtains control of the chops in an effort to obtain control over any of our PRC subsidiary or consolidated entities, we, our PRC subsidiaries or consolidated entities would need to pass a new shareholder or board resolution to designate a new legal representative and we would need to take legal action to seek the return of the chops, apply for new chops with the relevant authorities, or otherwise seek legal redress for the violation of the representative’s fiduciary duties to us, which could involve significant time and resources and divert management attention away from our regular business. In addition, the affected entity may not be able to recover corporate assets that are sold or transferred out of our control in the event of such a misappropriation if a transferee relies on the apparent authority of the representative and acts in good faith.
The audit report included in this annual report is prepared by an auditor who is not inspected by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and, as such, our investors are deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Our independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included in our annual report filed with the SEC, as auditors of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, is required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspections by the PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and professional standards. Because our auditors are located in the People’s Republic of China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditors are not currently inspected by the PCAOB.
Inspections of other firms that the PCAOB has conducted outside China have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. This lack of the PCAOB inspections in China prevents the PCAOB from fully evaluating the effectiveness of audit and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our securities are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our securities to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements. As part of our continued efforts to ensure accuracy and high quality of our financial reporting, our audit committee periodically communicates with our independent auditor to oversee and evaluate the audit procedures and status. However, we cannot assure you that the measures our audit committee has taken or will take in the future will be effective.
Our ADSs could be delisted and prohibited from trading “over the counter” if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is unable to inspect our auditor who is located in China. The delisting of our ADSs and inability to trade, or the threat thereof, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment.
On December 18, 2020, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, was enacted. The HFCA Act requires the SEC to prohibit securities of any foreign companies from being listed on U.S. securities exchanges or traded “over-the-counter” if a company retains a foreign accounting firm that cannot be inspected by the PCAOB for three consecutive years, beginning in 2021. On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final amendments to implement the HFCA Act. A registrant will not be required to comply with the amendments until the SEC has identified it as having a non-inspection year. As of the date of this annual report, the SEC is seeking public comment on this identification process. Our independent registered public accounting firm is located in and organized under the laws of the PRC, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, and therefore our auditors are currently not inspected by the PCAOB. We are not required to comply with the amendments until the SEC has identified us as having a “non-inspection” year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. If we are identified by the SEC as a registrant that will have to comply with the interim final amendments, we will be subject to additional submission and disclosure requirements. For example, the amendments will require any identified registrant to submit documentation to the SEC establishing that the registrant is not owned or controlled by a governmental entity in that foreign jurisdiction, and will also require disclosure in a foreign issuer’s annual report regarding the audit arrangements of, and governmental influence on, such a registrant. The SEC is seeking public comment on these submission and disclosure requirements and plans to separately address implementation of the trading prohibitions in the HFCA Act in the future.
There could be additional regulations or legislation that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President's Working Group on Financial Markets issued the Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies to the then President of the United States, or the PWG Report. The PWG Report contained recommendations to address the lack of PCAOB inspection access. Some of these recommendations were implemented in the HFCA Act. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCA Act. For example, the PWG report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
Whether the PCAOB will be able to conduct inspections of our auditors in the next three years, or at all, is subject to substantial uncertainty and depends on a number of factors out of our control. If we are unable to meet the PCAOB inspection requirement in time, we could be subject to additional submission and disclosure requirements, delisted from the Nasdaq Global Market and our ADSs will not be permitted for trading “over-the-counter” either. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the ongoing risk and uncertainty associated with delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs. Also, such a delisting would significantly affect our ability to raise capital on terms acceptable to us, or at all, which would have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and prospects.
It may be difficult for overseas authorities to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China.
Shareholder claims or regulatory investigations that are common in the United States generally are difficult to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigations initiated outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States may not be efficient in the absence of mutual and practical cooperation mechanism. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas authorities, including the SEC, the PCAOB, and the U.S. Department of Justice, can directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within the PRC and no entity or individual in China may provide documents and information relating to securities business activities to overseas authorities without PRC government approval. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 are yet to be promulgated, the inability for overseas authorities to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties faced by you in protecting your interests.
Uncertainties exist with respect to the enforcement of Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms and how it may impact our business operations.
In February 2021, the Anti-monopoly Commission of the State Council promulgated the Guidelines to Anti-Monopoly in the Field of Internet Platforms, or the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms. The Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms is consistent with the Anti-Monopoly Law and prohibits monopoly agreements, abuse of a dominant position and concentration of undertakings that may have the effect to eliminate or restrict competition in the field of platform economy. More specifically, the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms outlines certain practices that may, if without justifiable reasons, constitute abuse of a dominant position, including without limitation, tailored pricing using big data and analytics, actions or arrangements deemed as exclusivity arrangements, using technological means to block competitors’ interface, using bundle services to sell services or products, and compulsory collection of user data. In addition, the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms expressly provides that concentration involving VIE will also be subject to antitrust filing requirements. The Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms became effective on February 7, 2021, but uncertainties exist with respect to its enforcement. Although we believe we do not engage in any of the foregoing situations, we cannot assure you that the regulators will take the same view as ours. If certain of our activities in China were deemed by relevant regulators as violation of the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms, it may result in governmental investigations, fines and/or other sanctions against us.
Proceedings instituted by the SEC against the “big four” China-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
Starting in 2011 the “big four” China-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, were affected by a conflict between U.S. and Chinese law. Specifically, for certain U.S.-listed companies operating and audited in China, the SEC and the PCAOB sought to obtain from the Chinese firms access to their audit work papers and related documents. The firms were, however, advised and directed that under Chinese law, they could not respond directly to the U.S. regulators on those requests, and that requests by foreign regulators for access to such papers in China had to be channeled through the CSRC.
In late 2012, this impasse led the SEC to commence administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the Chinese accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm. A first instance trial of the proceedings in July 2013 in the SEC’s internal administrative court resulted in an adverse judgment against the firms. The administrative law judge proposed penalties on the firms including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC, although that proposed penalty did not take effect pending review by the Commissioners of the SEC. On February 6, 2015, before a review by the Commissioner had taken place, the firms reached a settlement with the SEC. Under the settlement, the SEC accepted that future requests by the SEC for the production of documents will normally be made to the CSRC. The firms were to receive matching Section 106 requests, and were required to abide by a detailed set of procedures with respect to such requests, which in substance require them to facilitate production via the CSRC. If they failed to meet specified criteria, the SEC retained authority to impose a variety of additional remedial measures on the firms depending on the nature of the failure. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four China-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year mark occurred on February 6, 2019. We cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four China-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions. If additional remedial measures are imposed on the “big four” China-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In the event the “big four” China-based accounting firms become subject to additional legal challenges by the SEC or PCAOB, depending upon the final outcome, listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in the PRC, which could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, including possible delisting. Moreover, any negative news about any such future proceedings against these audit firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based, U.S.-listed companies and the market price of our common stock may be adversely affected.
If our independent registered public accounting firm was denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act. Such a determination could ultimately lead to the delisting of the ADSs from Nasdaq Stock Market LLC or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of the ADSs in the United States.
Risks Related to the ADSs
The trading price of the ADSs may be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to you.
The trading price of the ADSs has been volatile and has ranged from a low of US$8.16 to a high of US$204.25 since the ADSs started to trade on the Nasdaq Global Market on March 8, 2019. The market price for the ADSs may continue to be volatile and subject to wide fluctuations in response to factors including, but not limited to, the following:
|●||regulatory developments affecting us or our industry;|
|●||announcements of studies and reports relating to the quality of our credit offerings or those of our competitors;|
|●||changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other financial service providers;|
|●||actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;|
|●||changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;|
|●||conditions in the market for financial services;|
|●||announcements by us or our competitors of new product and service offerings, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures, capital raisings or capital commitments;|
|●||additions to or departures of our senior management;|
|●||fluctuations of exchange rates between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar;|
|●||release or expiry of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding shares or the ADSs; and|
|●||sales or perceived potential sales of additional ordinary shares or ADSs.|
In addition, the stock market in general, and the market prices for internet-related companies and companies with operations in China in particular, have experienced volatility that often has been unrelated to the operating performance of such companies. The securities of some China-based companies that have listed their securities in the United States have experienced significant volatility since their initial public offerings in recent years, including, in some cases, substantial declines in the trading prices of their securities. The trading performances of these companies’ securities after their offerings may affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies listed in the United States in general, which consequently may impact the trading performance of the ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, any negative new