To some, trading stocks can be confusing and intimidating. A startup called Robinhood has pushed to make it as easy as the tap of a button on your smartphone. Hundreds of thousands of iPhone users have traded via the mobile app since March, and on Thursday the company released an Android version to tap into a broader range of customers.
On Robinhood, users can purchase U.S.-listed stocks or exchange-traded funds on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Robinhood boasts that transactions on the app are free. "Paying to trade is like paying to send an email," a Robinhood representative said. Some financial firms will charge $7 to $10 per online transaction. The app's descriptor as "free stock trading" isn't a misnomer -- transacting U.S. stock trades cost nothing to the consumer. Instead, Robinhood charges a fee for trading foreign stocks and also margin lending. The company also generates revenue by collecting interest from the uninvested cash in customers' accounts on Robinhood.
The app had an initial buzz, generating a waiting list of more than 300,000, when it was invite-only last year. Since it opened to the public in March, users have transacted more than $1 billion worth of trades, the company reports, claiming these deals have saved customers more than $22 million from trading commissions.
The founders, Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, were classmates at Stanford and later moved to New York City to build software for hedge funds and banks, Bloomberg reports. But as the Occupy Wall Street protests echoed out their windows, Tenev and Bhatt chose a different path. “There are a lot of people in our age group who have lost faith in the system,” Tenev told Bloomberg.
Hence, Robinhood -- stop working for the banks and instead look for ways to encourage the millennial generation to trade in part by empowering these first-time investors with easy-to-use technology. They created a mobile app that employed the swiping feature popularized by hookup app Tinder. The team also created a short online ad that's reminiscent of Dollar Shave Club spots.
Analysts told Bloomberg that if Robinhood gained enough popularity, it could push more financial lenders to lower their transaction fees. But another analyst cautioned that Robinhood's model could lead to risky lending and trading among people who lack financial literacy.
Robinhood has received $66 million in venture capital funding. Investors include NEA, Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Box CEO Aaron Levie and Snoop Dogg, to name a few.
Robinhood is currently limited to customers in the United States, but the company plans to expand to Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, TechCrunch reports. Robinhood is now available to download on the App Store and Google Play Store.