Robinhood is getting ready to increase its price of equity trading to $4.99 a trade. The company raised $100 million at a $3 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs and others to expand beyond a limited retail bank account. To make more cash, it’s bringing the stock market closer to people than anything already on the market.
Today Robinhood announced a strategic investment by e-commerce giant Morgan Stanley. As a result, Morgan Stanley will become Robinhood’s preferred stock trading broker. While Morgan Stanley isn’t taking a stake in Robinhood, the two will work together to encourage more people to trade.
Robinhood CEO Baiju Bhatt told me Morgan Stanley “will help us broaden our reach by providing the best trading experience in the industry at the price people can trust.”
“Morgan Stanley has been at the forefront of innovation and client experience and their inclusion into our leadership team is a privilege” Bhatt added.
Robinhood entered the public spotlight when Facebook launched its debit card and launched the option to transfer money between friends. Later, Robinhood gained a following by letting users trade their Facebook friends’ stock simply by checking out friends’ profiles.
Robinhood began in 2014 with a retail bank account, but later pivoted to being a more robust alternative to the stodgy stock exchanges. It’s the first place I’ve noticed when someone has gone to the trouble of opening a brokerage account. When someone doing so isn’t coming from Robinhood’s app, it’s because they don’t want to spend money or they don’t want to lose money. They’re using a quote wallet like Coinbase or Robinhood’s partners instead.
But Bhatt tells me Morgan Stanley’s stock exchange business and trading expertise “will be a huge edge for us”. Bhatt says “We’re an important financial service provider to young adults today who haven’t been exposed to it.” This partnership will encourage new clients to open equity trading accounts, and help grow Robinhood’s business.
Before Robinhood’s $100 million fund raise in April, it could only offer stock trades with a minimum price of $0.50 a share. You’d get the price of the stock if you bought it, not the price on which you sold it, so it could take your money and then make another buck for itself.
“We need to be closer to the user” Bhatt told me about the long awaited price increase. But not every investor will be happy. As the CEO explained in a letter to shareholders, “it will be possible for some retail investors to lose money with our new rate structure.” That, though, could draw more revenue from the few who buy and sell it.
Robinhood says it can bring an uptick in retail stock volume. The average price per trade is $11.68 now, and if it could get up to $20 a share, that would earn Robinhood $100 million extra per year. To put that into perspective, the company will need just $450 million to pay down its $740 million debt in cash and fees. That makes Robinhood worth a lot of money even before any potential revenue increase.
The also plan to go after small retail investors with automated investing tools. That could make investors far more comfortable than when they’d have to meet with a human broker and take a stab at a stock market simulator to figure out which ones to buy and sell. Bhatt expects institutional brokers to pick up the small retail trader-driven volume.
Meanwhile, Robinhood could one day offer this investing at better prices. Perhaps we’ll see it flippantly suggest you take a punt with your cash. After all, if Morgan Stanley already thinks you’re ready to trade in the real world, it has earned that right.