Stock brokerage Robinhood launched no-fee cryptocurrency trading in February 2018 and intends to operate cryptocurrency trading as a breakeven business.
Robinhood created its commission-free stock brokerage in 2013, providing major competition to existing fee-based trading platforms. Instead of making money from commission fees on stock and cryptocurrency trades, the company takes its profits from interest earned on cash balances, margin lending, and its premium services.
Free Cryptocurrency Trading
When Robinhood first announced at the end of January 2018 that it would be launching zero-fee cryptocurrency trading, reactions within the crypto and financial communities were swift. Within just four days of the announcement, more than one million people had signed up for early access to the Robinhood Crypto app. In the days following the app’s official launch in February, growing interest and excitement sparked a flood of new customers – as many as 200,000 per day.
With such a massive influx of new users eager to trade cryptocurrencies, it would be tempting for any exchange to update their policy and charge at least a nominal trade fee, but Robinhood is sticking to its guns.
Vlad Tenev, Robinhood founder and co-CEO told Fortune:
We don’t intend to make very much money on it at all for the foreseeable future.
Tenev’s comment reinforces a similar statement made in the company’s announcement back in January in which he explained some of the reasoning behind the decision:
The value of Robinhood Crypto is in growing our customer base and better serving our existing customers.
Aiming for Breakeven
In an episode of Balancing the Ledger, Tenev explains that Robinhood is operating its cryptocurrency trading arm as a breakeven business. It is a move reminiscent of Square offering its users zero-fee Bitcoin trading through its Cash app earlier this year. In fact, Square recently announced that it made just $223,000 more on Bitcoin sales than it originally paid for the coins in Q1 2018.
So why aim for breaking even? As Tenev and his co-CEO, Baiju Bhatt, explain, they view cryptocurrencies as an entry point onto their platform for new traders. The theory is that new traders will come to the platform initially for cryptocurrency trading, but then expand their interests to the other more traditional assets on which Robinhood reaps higher margins.
Building an Ecosystem
With a current valuation of around $5.6 billion, Robinhood is the second most valuable private fintech company in the world with over 4 million customers trading stocks, ETFs, and cryptocurrencies.
Speaking about the decision to introduce cryptocurrency trading, Tenev explained:
The thinking behind that is what we’re really doing is building an ecosystem. Right now, the products are investing products, so crypto slots in very nicely alongside the 10,000 plus other instruments that people can trade.
Financial Services Customers Are Getting Ripped Off
Tenev believes commission fees are outdated, especially considering the lower costs of operation of modern online exchanges and brokers. Robinhood’s approach is to use technology and automation to reduce costs for customers and it aims to eventually compete with Bank of America across all financial products.
I think it doesn’t stop with just investing products. Customers are getting ripped off across the board in financial services.
Robinhood is planning to add more cryptocurrencies to its existing trading of Bitcoin and Ethereum but is wary of regulatory uncertainty. It will also assess new coins thoroughly.
Do you agree with Tenev? Are traditional financial service providers ripping customers off? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Robinhood, AdobeStock