Updated. The Robinhood app wants to “democratize the financial markets” by creating brokerage account in your pocket that offers unlimited free trades with no minimum balance requirement. That is a pretty bold move, and I was skeptical as I’ve been an long-time early adopter of free trading platforms (read: cheapskate investor).
I started out as a beta user in mid-2014 with their beautiful but manually-installed iPhone app. In August 2015, they rolled out both iOS and Android app and reported processing over 2 million free trades. As of 2017, they have over a million users and processed $30 billion in trades. According to Bloomberg, they recently raised money at a $1.3 billion valuation.
Application process. You must provide your personal information including Social Security number, net worth, income, investing experience, etc. This is the same as any other brokerage firm, but this may also be the first such account for many users. Everything was done online; there were no paper documents that required mailing or faxing.
- Yes, the app really gives me $0 commission trades with no minimum balance requirement. That means you could open account, put in five bucks, and buy a single share of Zynga (ZNGA) if you wanted to (maybe two on a bad day…).
- Robinhood now supports market orders, limit orders, stop limit orders, and stop orders. Certain orders may be entered as good for the day or good till canceled (GTC).
- You can open an individual cash or margin account.
- Customer service is encouraged to go through their e-mail “[email protected]”, but they have added a phone number now during market hours (9:30am – 4:00pm EST) at (650) 940-2700.
Along with all the other legit brokerage firms, Robinhood Financial is a member of the SIPC which protects the securities in your account up to $500,000. Data is encrypted with SSL. Apex is their clearing firm.
Funds transfers. You can manually link any bank account with your routing number and account number, but you can also directly use your username and password at these banks: Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Charles Schwab, PNC, Silicon Vally Bank, and USAA. ACH transfers are free and take approximately 3 business days (same as other brokerages).
Robinhood recently added an automatic deposits feature where you can schedule ACH transfers on a weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
ACAT account transfers. Robinhood now accepts incoming stock transfers from outside brokerage accounts. To do this, go your app account menu, select “Banking”, then select “Stock Transfer” and follow the on-screen instructions. Incoming transfers are free. Outgoing transfers will incur a $75 fee.
Robinhood Instant. Robinhood Instant is a free upgrade that gets you a “limited margin account” that has the following features:
- Immediate access to funds from selling stock. That means you can reinvest those funds without waiting two days for settlement. (All brokerage margin accounts offer this.)
- Limited instant deposits. Use up to $1,000 of your pending bank deposits right away. No waiting 2-3 days for a bank transfer to complete.
What’s missing? Getting free trades is great, but I think it’s also important to know what you won’t get, at least right now:
- You must access your account via a mobile Apple iOS or Android device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phone, Android tablet). There is no official web interface. There are unofficial ones available, but I would be wary of sharing your login credentials with a 3rd-party.
- Broker-assisted phone trades are $10 each, according to their fee schedule.
- Electronic statements are the default. I don’t even see an option to enable paper statements in the app, but according to their fee schedule paper statements cost $5 a pop.
- Options trading is not available at this time.
How do they make money? First, Robinhood will make some money the same way other brokers do: collect interest on your idle cash, charge you interest for margin loans, and sell order flow. The most innovative prospect is to the plan to sell API access to other financial apps.
The fact that Robinhood sells order flow may leave you with a slightly worse execution price as compared to other brokers with more complex order routing. If you are making large value trades, then this small percentage difference may add up to something significant that matters more than commission price. With my tiny order volume, I am fine with them selling my order flow if they are giving me commission-free trades.
Robinhood Gold is their premium service tier that gives you extending trading hours and interest-free margin for $10 a Month. My Robinhood Gold review.
User interface. Over the last 10 years, I’ve opened an account at the majority of the “discount” brokerage firms. I’ve had $0 trades before, along with $2 trades, $2.50 trades, $4.95 trades and so on. What makes Robinhood special is their modern, app-centric approach. I agree with this quote from Wired:
But the app’s simplicity is meant to be about more than style. Ease of access and understanding is meant to make Robinhood compulsively engaging for a new generation of investors that don’t find the stock market very accessible from the mobile screens at the center of their lives.
Recap. Robinhood delivers on their $0 stock trades promise with no minimum balance. The app-only user interface is clean and intuitive. Customer service is on the lean side, but my requests were responded to within a day or so. They continue to make incremental improvements. They’ve been open to the public since March 2015, which is honestly longer than I expected.
Sign up for Robinhood with my referral link and get a free share of stock, and I’ll get one too. Details on this promotion here.