stock trading

Robinhood cuts trading fees, grows profits with in-house clearing

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Finance, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, stock trading, TC, Vlad Tenev | No Comments

As zero-commission stock trading app Robinhood starts preparing to IPO, an engineering investment two years in the making could accelerate its quest for profitability. Most stock broker services have to pay an external clearing house to reconcile trades between buyers and sellers. Now with 6 million accounts up from 4 million just 5 months ago, that added up to a huge cost for Robinhood since it doesn’t demand a trading fee like the $7 to $10 that incumbent competitors E*Trade and Scottrade charge. Relying on outside clearing also introduced bottlenecks around its innovation and user sign ups, limiting onboarding to business hours.

But today Robinhood will start migrating accounts to its new in-house clearing service over the next few months. That will save it from paying clearing fees on stock, option, ETF and cryptocurrency trades. In turn, Robinhood is eliminating or reducing some of its edge case fees: $10 broker assisted trades, $10 restricted accounts, $50 voluntary corporate actions and $30 worthless securities processing will all now be free. Robinhood is meanwhile cutting its margin on fees passed on by banks or FedEx, so ACH reversal fees will drop from $30 to $9, overnight check delivery from $35 to $20 and overnight mail from $35 to $20.

“What’s really interesting is that this is the only clearing system built from scratch on modern technology in at least the last decade,” Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev tells me. Most clearing services ran mainframes and terminal-based UIs that aren’t built for the pace of startup innovation. Going in-house “allows us to vertically integrate our business so we won’t have to depend on third-parties for foundational aspects. It’s a huge investment in the future of Robinhood that will massively impact our customers and their experience, but also help us out on building the kind of business we want to build.”

There’s a ton of pressure on Robinhood right now since it’s raised $539 million to date, including a $363 million Series D in May at a jaw-dropping $5.6 billion valuation just a year after raising at $1.3 billion. Currently Robinhood earns revenue from interest on money kept in Robinhood accounts, selling order flow to exchanges that want more liquidity, and its Robinhood Gold subscriptions, where users pay $10 to $200 per month to borrow $2,000 to $50,000 in credit to trade on margin. Last month at TechCrunch Disrupt, Robinhood’s other co-CEO Baiju Bhatt told me the startup is now actively working to hire a CFO to get its business ready to IPO.

Whoever that CFO is will have an easier job thanks to Christine Hall, Robinhood’s Product Lead for Clearing. After stints at Google and Udacity, she was hired two years to navigate the regulatory and engineering challenges of spinning up Robinhood Clearing. She explains that “Clearing is just a fancy word for making sure that when the user places a trade, the price and number of shares matches what the other side wants to give away. In the less than 1 percent chance of error, the clearing firm makes sure everyone is on the same page prior to settlement.

Robinhood Clearing Product Lead Christine Hall

Forming the Robinhood Securities entity, Hall scored the startup the green light from FINRA, the DTCC and the OCC. She also recruited Chuck Tennant, who’d previously run clearing firms and would grow a 70-person team for the project at Robinhood’s Orlando office. They allow Robinhood to clear, settle (exchanging the dollars and shares) and ensure custody (keeping records of asset movements) of trades. 

“It gives us massive cost savings, but since we’re no longer depending on a third-party, we basically control our destiny,” Tenev says. No more waiting for clearing houses to adapt to its new products. And no more waiting the whole weekend for account approval as Robinhood can now approve accounts 24/7. These little improvements are critical to Robinhood staying ahead of the pack of big banks like Charles Schwab that are lowering their fees to compete, as well as other startups offering mobile trading. The launch could also blossom into a whole new business for Robinhood if it’s willing to take on clearing for other brokers, including fintech apps like Titan.

Clearing comes with additional risk. Regulatory scrutiny is high, and the more Robinhood brings in-house, the more security work it must do. A breach could break the brand of user trust it’s been building. Yet if successful, the launch equips Robinhood for an ambitious future beyond playing the markets. “The mission of the company has expanded a lot. It used to be all about stock trading. But if you look at Robinhood five years from now, it’s about being best-in-class for all of our customers’ financial needs,” Tenev concludes. “You should be able to get everything from Robinhood that you could get from walking into your local bank.” That’s a vision worthy of the startup’s epic valuation.

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Stock trade app Robinhood raising at $5B+, up 4X in a year

Posted by | Apps, coinbase, cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency exchange, DST Global, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, stock trading | No Comments

By adding a cryptocurrency exchange, a web version and stock option trading, Robinhood has managed to quadruple its valuation in a year, according to a source familiar with a new round the startup is raising. Robinhood is closing in on around $350 million in Series D funding led by Russian firm DST Global, the source says. That’s just 11 months after Robinhood confirmed TechCrunch’s scoop that the zero-fee stock trading app had raised a $110 million Series C at a $1.3 billion valuation. The new raise would bring Robinhood to $526 million in funding.

Details of the Series D were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The astronomical value growth shows that investors see Robinhood as a core part of the mobile finance tools upon which the next generation will rely. The startup also just proved its ability to nimbly adapt to trends by building its cryptocurrency trading feature in less than two months to make sure it wouldn’t miss the next big economic shift. One million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced.

The launch completed a trio of product debuts. The mobile app finally launched a website version for tracking and trading stocks without a commission in November. In December it opened options trading, making it a more robust alternative to brokers like E*Trade and Scottrade. They often charge $7 or more per stock trade compared to zero with Robinhood, but also give away features that are reserved for Robinhood’s premium Gold subscription tier.

Robinhood won’t say how many people have signed up for its $6 to $200 per month Gold service that lets people trade on margin, with higher prices netting them more borrowing power. That and earning interest on money stored in Robinhood accounts are the startup’s primary revenue sources.

Rapid product iteration and skyrocketing value surely helped recruit Josh Elman, who Robinhood announced yesterday has joined as VP of product as he transitions to a part-time roll at Greylock Partners. He could help the company build a platform business as a backbone for other fintech apps, they way he helped Facebook build its identity platform.

In effect, Robinhood has figured out how to make stock trading freemium. Rather than charge per trade with bonus features included, Robinhood gives away the bare-bones trades and charges for everything else. That could give it a steady, scalable business model akin to Dropbox, which grew by offering small amounts of free storage and then charging for extras and enterprise accounts. From a start with free trades, Robinhood could blossom into a hub for your mobile finance life.

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Robinhood stock-trading app confirms $110M raise at $1.3B valuation

Posted by | Apps, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, stock trading, TC | No Comments

 Zero-fee stock-trading app Robinhood has joined the unicorn club. That’s thanks to it reaching 2 million total monthly users, and 17 percent month-over-month growth of its revenue-driving Robinhood Gold subscription product. The startup confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s raised a $110 million Series C at a $1.3 billion valuation. Read More

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Robinhood preps for zero-fee stock trading launch in China

Posted by | Apps, China, eCommerce, Finance, fintech, Government, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, stock trading, TC | No Comments

Robinhood China Robinhood will bring its free U.S. stock trading app to the world, and just announced one of the first countries will be China. To prepare, today it launched a Chinese-language version in the U.S. and began asking users to invite friends and family in China to its waitlist. Robinhood previously launched a waitlist for Australia, but has otherwise only been available in the United States. For… Read More

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