Robinhood and FINRA: They're Totally Fine(d)
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Well I don't remember this part of the fairy tale. In the stories of yore, Robin Hood was the man the stole from the rich to give to the poor like some kind of communist forest pixie. He'd go, armed with his bow and arrow, to reclaim what had been taken by the Sheriff of Nottingham and then return home to his Maid Marian.
Jumping to the real world, and fintech startup(?) Robinhood looked to steal essentially every part of their branding from the legendary English archer. The feather in the logo, the green motif pretty much across the board whether you like it or not, and the classic "steal from the rich and give to the poor" mentality. Unfortunately, as prophesied by Harvey Dent, they lived long enough to see themselves become the villain. In January of 2021, Robinhood, the app set out to "democratize the future of investing," found themselves in the middle of one of the most dramatic stories in stock market history, which resulted in the largest FINRA fine of all-time.
Some Quick Context
Reddit tendie machine WallStreetBets had been churning for months. Retail investors
on the message boards noticed that the big Wall Street hedge funds have made a rare mistake: the over-levered into the perpetually troubled GameStop. The "hedgies" were taking huge amounts of their money and dumping it into shorting, or betting on the company to go lower, to the point where the shorts were no longer backed by the company itself. Reddit traders discovered that if they banded together to drive the GameStop shares up, gains could be made. This is where Robinhood comes in: thanks to Robinhood's business model of not charging for trades and making options contracts extremely easy to open, they were the platform of choice for these fly-by-night traders. Fast forward to January 27, and Reddit has prevailed. Hedge funds are closing their shorts at enormous losses, with popular short-seller Citron Capital disclosing that they were at a "100% loss" at the time they closed. So Reddit had done it. It was over. The next step: time to sell their shares.
Or at least they thought so. The following day, Robinhood, among other brokerages, halted all trading of so called "volatile" stocks like Gamestop, AMC Entertainment, Blackberry (remember them?) and Bed Bath and Beyond. Retail traders were unable to dump their shares, despite hedge funds still having access to the markets to be able to do just that. Internet revolt ensued, which mostly consisted of a little complaining and "#BoycottRobinhood" trending on Twitter. The self-proclaimed Warren Buffett of the new age and Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy even stepped in to hold CEO Vlad Tenev's feet to the fire on the platform's trading restrictions.
But Robinhood's woes didn't stop there. During the height of Dogecoin mania in May of 2021, Robinhood's crypto exchange crashed. Down. Nada. Traders couldn't get in or out of positions, resulting in dramatic misses for traders looking to time their exits out of Doge.
Finally, in by-far the worst example of Robinhood's misgivings, they had general system glitches and technical issues across the board for extended periods of time. This led to multiple accounts of inexperienced traders being given access to margin (borrowed money to invest with) when they didn't necessarily request it. This unfortunately led to the tragic story of a 31-year-old man who took his own life in 2020 after seeing his account balance in Robinhood stood at negative $730,000, which was in-fact an incorrect balance due to pending trades Robinhood's system had misrepresented. The family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
So Why Now?
Because Robinhood is going public. Robinhood has had the wheels in motion to go public for around two years now since hiring their first CFO back in 2019, and they are the public market darling that most investment banks have had their eyes on for some time, especially since most recent valuations put the company around $12 billion in the private markets. On March 23, it finally happened: Robinhood confidentially filed their paperwork to go public. But if it was confidential, how do we know it was them....?
When you go public, that's your the chance to get your first impression rose from the
public markets. You want your appearance to be as squeaky clean as possible, and that most certainly involves settling any outstanding FINRA investigations.
Things brings us to this week, when it was reported Robinhood paid $70 million to FINRA, the governing body's largest ever fine. The good news here for Robinhood is that this basically clears the way from a regulatory standpoint to hop to the public markets. Negative investor sentiment has largely cleared out, and FINRA was their final hurdle. And with the recent announcement from Robinhood that they'll be offering their own IPO shares to a minority of platform users, I can't see anything else going wrong...
What do you think about Robinhood going public? Are you going to invest? And don't forget to subscribe to our email list to get these in your inbox as soon as they're live!