HONG KONG: Digital engagement by consumers, companies, and the government of Hong Kong is lagging behind international competitors according to a new Google whitepaper, which uncovers a continued mistrust in digital services among a large portion of the population.

Notwithstanding the city’s 85% internet penetration, Google’s Think 2020: Smarter Digital City paper, reported by the South China Morning Post, found that 81% of citizens described themselves as digitally savvy. 

However, the report uncovered that just 42% were truly digitally integrated by using online banking or collaboration apps for work. The whitepaper was commissioned by Google with research from Nielsen.

Despite multiple devices per owner, Leonie Valentine, Google Hong Kong’s managing director for sales and operations, told the Post that most devices are used on a “very surface level.”

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most internet-connected cities, especially on mobile, with the government’s Office of the Communications Authority recording over 16 million mobile internet subscribers (2.5G and later) which, with a population of just 7.3 million, works out at a penetration of 217%.  

Just a third of the participants said they have used peer-to-peer mobile payment apps; 30% of respondents didn’t actually know what P2P payments were.

“It comes down to this issue of trust”, Valentine explained. “Hongkongers generally have a tendency to trust the physical, they trust their cards, we’re still a city that likes to issue cheques and use chops, and use traditional payment methods.

 “Look at our near neighbours, [where people can] use apps to pay for taxi rides. But in Hong Kong we’ve been held back a little bit by … the ‘cash is king’ mindset”, she added.  

Meanwhile, companies also have catching-up to do, with change coming gradually. Over a fifth of the city’s companies said they were not engaged in digital transformation projects, a mistake, Valentine suggests, as more agile, digital rivals will gain the advantage when engaging consumers.

The reason, she added, was Hong Kong’s traditional reliance on demand in order to build. Whereas Singapore, she said, “have done it supply-side … where services are built ahead of consumers realising that they need them. A lot of it is about getting ahead of their competition,”

Finally, she concluded, it was down to companies and organisations to be “bold and brave,” making investments in digital opportunities, according to global trends, Valentine added, “to leapfrog some of the other cities in Asia.”

Data sourced from the South China Morning Post, CIA, Government of Hong Kong; additional content by WARC staff