HSBC bans customers from buying bitcoin-backer MicroStrategy shares

LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC has banned customers of its online share-trading platform from buying or moving into their accounts MicroStrategy Inc stock, a message seen by Reuters showed, calling it a “virtual currency product”.

The bank will not facilitate the buying or exchange of products related to or referencing the performance of virtual currencies, the message to an HSBC InvestDirect client said. Bitcoin is the largest and best-known virtual currency.

MicroStrategy declined to comment. The U.S. business software firm is led by bitcoin proponent Michael Saylor and owns bitcoin worth billions of dollars.

While HSBC will allow the holding, sale and outgoing transfer of MicroStrategy shares, it will forbid new purchases or incoming transfers, said the message dated March 29.

“HSBC has no appetite for direct exposure to virtual currencies and limited appetite to facilitate products or securities that derive their value from VCs (virtual currencies),” HSBC said in a statement.

HSBC InvestDirect is available to customers in countries including Canada and Britain.

The bank said its policy towards cryptocurrencies had been in place since 2018 and is kept under review. It could not immediately say which countries the ban applied to.

The move comes amid a growing embrace of cryptocurrencies by large financial firms, companies and investors seeking yield in a world of ultra-low interest rates.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc said last month it would offer investments in bitcoin and other digital assets to its wealth management clients. Morgan Stanley has also started offering clients investments to the emerging asset class.

MicroStrategy has along with Tesla Inc and payments firm Square Inc become one of several publicly listed U.S. companies to buy large amounts of bitcoin for its treasury.

MicroStrategy said last week it owns around 91,579 bitcoins. Its holdings, worth around $5.5 billion according to a Reuters calculation, are equal to around 80% of its $6.8 billion market capitalisation.

Reporting by Tom Wilson; Editing by David Holmes

Pressure grows on HSBC over Hong Kong activist Ted Hui: Times

HSBC Holdings Plc has drawn fire from an international coalition of senior politicians over its decision to freeze the bank account of prominent pro-democracy activist Ted Hui in Hong Kong, The Times reported on Monday.

A group consisting of more than 50 politicians, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, have written to HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker demanding he unfreeze the accounts of Hui and his family, according to the report.

In their letter, seen by The Times, members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China say it is “highly concerning” that the accounts of Hui’s family members are frozen, even though they are not subject to any charges.

They also warn that HSBC has “compromised clients’ assets and private property rights without regard to the law and due procedures”.

The letter, as per the Times’ report, also asks the bank to provide a “formal explanation” for its decision to freeze the accounts and urges it to publicly commit to “protecting the access to funds of individuals and their families subject to politically motivated charges issued by the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.”

Hui, a former Hong Kong lawmaker, had said in December his local bank accounts appeared to have been frozen after he said he would seek exile in Britain to continue his pro-democratic activities.

British lawmaker Chris Bryant had also told the bank’s Chief Executive Noel Quinn last month that HSBC was “aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world”, during a hearing over its freezing of Hong Kong democrats’ bank accounts.