‘Micro’ Finance Giant Robinhood Makes Big Bet on Bitcoin

Jan 25, 2018 at 16:00 UTC
Updated Jan 29, 2018 at 13:03 UTC
FEATURE

Stock trading mobile app provider Robinhood is jumping on the crypto-trading bandwagon.

Announced today, the company, which was founded in 2013 as a way to democratize stock trading, said it plans to roll out bitcoin and ether trading services via its mobile apps next month. Not only does the company hope to attract cryptocurrency enthusiasts to its more traditional products, but it’s also launching the service to catch some of the momentum cryptocurrency has seen as of late.

“We’ve come to understand that cryptocurrencies as an asset have exhibited clear and underlying resiliency and have integrated themselves as part of a diversified and balanced portfolio,” Robinhood co-founder and CEO Vlad Tenev told CoinDesk.

To start with, the service will only be offered to users in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana and New Hampshire, but more states are set to follow.

The company, which is regulated in the U.S. by the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), plans to offer the crypto trading service for free. Plus, it promises instant transfers on cryptocurrency purchases for amounts of $1,000 or less, a significant improvement on the time it generally takes for people to buy cryptocurrency for the first time.

Tenev explained:

“We view entering crypto as a way to extend our user base and build our brand.”

Crypto meets stock

While offering the service for free could seem risky, Tenev said, the company hopes to attract investors from the $550 billion cryptocurrency industry to the platform and its products, which already provide revenue streams.

Specifically, the firm charges for a premium service called Robinhood Gold that enables margin trading and after-hours trading. The company also generates revenue by collecting interest on cash and securities in user accounts similar to a traditional bank.

Having raised a total of $176 million in venture capital, the crypto functionality is in line with Robinhood’s push to add more products to its offering. Last month, the firm rolled out options trading and a month earlier, it added a web-based platform to its mobile services.

But the move isn’t just about luring cryptocurrency enthusiasts to its traditional products, it’s also about giving users normally focused on traditional investment vehicles exposure to cryptocurrency.

According to Tenev, the firm recently crossed 3 million accounts and $100 billion in total transacted volume.

Speaking to the company’s interest in bringing together traditional assets with nascent crypto assets, Tenev said:

“We envision a world where people can have your cryptos alongside your stocks, ETFs, and more.”

Robinhood has not built its own cryptocurrency wallet, but will be using a third-party provider. While Robinhood will manage custody of the cryptocurrencies on the user’s behalf, Tenev said the company does not intend to make investments with the cryptocurrency its customers store.

Coins to come

While Robinhood customers will only have access to bitcoin and ethereum trading, effective immediately, the company will let customers add 16 different cryptocurrencies (bitcoin and ethereum included) to their “watchlist,” a feature allowing them to monitor market data, read related news and create price alerts.

Other coins that can be added to the watchlist are bitcoin cash, litecoin, XRP (Ripple), ethereum classic, zcash, monero, dash, stellar, qtum, bitcoin gold, omisego, NEO, lisk, and dogecoin.

For now, Tenev isn’t revealing any possible plans to start trading those other currencies, however, he said that a “listing committee” had been established to analyze factors such as security, functionality and demand to assess cryptocurrencies that could be added to the trading functionality or the market data list.

And, while the company is interested in adding new cryptocurrencies to its trading platform, Tenev said Robinhood would not be adding more complicated asset classes tied to crypto, such as bitcoin or ethereum futures.

He said:

“We’re focused right now on the coins themselves, and I think in the near future we anticipate adding a variety of other coins before we extend to new asset classes.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Ripple and Zcash Company, the for-profit entity that develops the zcash protocol.. 

App graphic via Robinhood