Troubled trading app Robinhood hopes to lure back users — with retirement accounts
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Robinhood, the online trading platform popular among younger stock and crypto traders, said this week that it’s getting into the retirement account business, allowing customers to sign up for individual retirement accounts, or IRAs.
This is the same company that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority hit with the largest fine it had ever imposed — $70 million — for misleading customers and encouraging potentially ruinous trades. The app used push alerts encouraging users to make trades that could potentially put them in debt.
Robinhood lost users after federal regulators fined them for a number of misleading practices. Now it’s trying to lure some back with fee-free individual retirement accounts aimed at gig workers, who don’t always have access to retirement savings plans.
“What we set out to do is put our minds to thinking about how we can build an offering that helps them,” said Steve Quirk, chief brokerage officer at Robinhood.
It fits with Robinhood’s stated mission of democratizing finance, first through stock trading, and now with retirement.
John Scott is project director for retirement savings at the Pew Charitable Trusts. He said anything that gets young people thinking about retirement savings is a positive.
“In this country, your retirement security is dependent on what you save. And the earlier you save, even if it’s a small amount, it can have a big impact on your retirement security,” he said.
Robinhood said it has almost half a million people on a waiting list for the IRA product. But the Census puts the number of Americans without retirement savings in the tens of millions.
“I don’t think it’s going to move the needle one iota,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
“It’s really rare for someone to go out and set up an individual retirement account and contribute to it. It won’t hurt anything, but it is not the answer to the coverage problem in our existing retirement system,” she said.
Robinhood said it’s looking to educate users on retirement and what the app is doing with the money people contribute, but Vicki Bogan at Cornell University is skeptical. She testified last year in Congress that Robinhood’s system of push notifications and prompts encouraged potentially risky trades that chiefly benefited the company’s bottom line.
“Its business model and business practices have not always served the best interest of the users on the platform,” she said.
She added lowering barriers to entry into the retirement space is definitely a good thing.
“But transparency with regard to the business model, and where exactly they’re going to be making their money, and how they’re going to be making their money is important for users to understand,” she said.
Robinhood said it will make money on this product like it does elsewhere, through collecting a share of profits on customer’s trades, from interest on uninvested cash, and lending out shares of stocks to short sellers.
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