Following reports that regulators have been throwing up obstacles to Robinhood's planned IPO, forcing the company to push back its expected timeline for the offering, the Wall Street Journal reported just minutes ago that the discount brokerage has just agreed to pay $70MM to settle allegations that have been giving the firm serious problems.
The settlement with Finra, the industry's self-regulatory body, will resolve allegations that Robinhood misled customers, approved ineligible traders for risky strategies and didn't supervise technology that failed and locked millions out of trading. Finra announced the settlement Wednesday morning.
"We’re fine with innovation, but innovation can’t be at the cost of creating compliance and supervision systems," Finra Enforcement Chief Jessica Hopper said in an interview. Finra is privately funded by the brokerage industry is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Of the $70MM, $12.6MM will be used as compensation for harmed investors.
WSJ shared an example, from Finra, of the type of behavior that led to the fine.
A new customer, who was 20 years old, was rejected for options trading after telling Robinhood that he had little investing experience and a low risk tolerance. Just 3 minutes later, the customer changed his risk appetite to “medium” and said he had three years of investing experience. Within seconds, Robinhood approved him for options, according to Finra’s settlement document. There was also that incident with the Robinhood trader who took his own life.
Robinhood has also been accused of misleading customers into believing that the firm wouldn't extend them margin to fill their trades if they simply turned that feature off (not true).
Finra also faulted Robinhood for repeated outages that seem to disrupt trading just when markets are sliding (or meme stocks are soaring, like we saw back in January).
The fine is, of course, merely a speeding ticket: The firm's revenue growth has surged, with its revenue from trading more than tripling during Q1. Robinhood now has 31MM customers, 18MM of whom have funded accounts, according to a settlement document made public Wednesday. Robinhood's critics have complained about all of these practices in the past, prompting the firm to modify some of the "game-ification" techniques it uses, allegedly, to entice users to trade more.