Is Robinhood Safe for Investors?
Robinhood, the mobile-only online brokerage that disrupted the financial technology industry by charging commission-free trades, was launched in December 2014 with a waitlist of more than 500,000. Company founders Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, Stanford physics graduates, believed that Robinhood would motivate a new generation of would-be investors with their mobile platform. Robinhood's mission was to make the financial markets more accessible, primarily by offering zero-fee trades, no account minimums, and an easy-to-use mobile app—even if some were skeptical.
Robinhood launched a premium trading platform, Robinhood Gold, in 2016 that offers investors premium features for a $5 monthly fee. Robinhood Gold gives investors the ability to trade on margin up to $1,000, bigger instant deposits, and access to professional research and Level II market data. Investors who are interested in premium features can sign up for a 30-day free trial. There's no doubt that Robinhood has won a loyal following, and the company is backed by major players such as Google Ventures, Index Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz. But is it safe? Here's what you should know.
- Mobile-only brokerage Robinhood was founded in 2014 and charges no commissions or account minimums, making it a user-friendly application for a new generation of investors.
- Despite the simple user interface that demystified trading for many, some investors questioned if the platform was too good to be true.
- Like all brokerage firms that handle securities, Robinhood is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and maintains membership in the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
- Investment accounts with Robinhood are covered beyond just standard Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) coverage. Robinhood offers "excess of SIPC" coverage up to $1.5 million for cash and $10 million for securities per brokerage customer, after SIPC coverage is exhausted.
Understanding Robinhood's Safety
Robinhood, as noted in Investopedia's review of the platform, was an exciting mobile platform that attracted new investors who wanted to trade in small quantities. Despite the simple user interface that demystified trading for many, some investors questioned if the platform was too good to be true.
Luckily, Robinhood, like all brokerage firms that handle securities, is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which oversees the securities market to ensure transparency and fair dealings.
The SEC's primary compliance mechanism is prosecuting civil cases against companies and individuals that commit fraud, disseminate false information, or engage in insider trading. However, the SEC does not offer protections for the individual investor—it does not insure against loss or otherwise protect your investment from actions your brokerage firm may take.
In addition to SEC regulation, Rohinhood also maintains membership in the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in which most brokerage firms voluntarily participate. SROs are overseen by the SEC, but they are not part of the government. Brokerages that are FINRA members submit to the organization's rules and regulations, which cover testing and licensure of agents and brokers and a transparent disclosure framework that protects investors.
$1 billion +
What Robinhood claims to have saved their users in commissions and fees.
What Other Protections Are Available?
Investment accounts with Robinhood are covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which is a nonprofit membership corporation that protects money invested in a brokerage that files for bankruptcy or encounters other financial difficulties. SIPC was created by Congress in 1970 under the Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA). SIPC has no authority to investigate or regulate its members—it exists only to restore investor funds (up to $500,000 for securities and cash or $250,000 for cash only per account) held by financially troubled brokerages.
In addition to SIPC coverage, Robinhood has what it calls "excess of SIPC" coverage. Through its partnerships with certain underwriters at Lloyd's of London, Robinhood provides an extra up to $1.5 million for cash and $10 million for securities protection per customer, which is triggered when SIPC coverage is exhausted.
|Robinhood's Safety and Protections|
Are There Other Risks Associated With Trading on Robinhood?
For most investors, the potential risks involved with using Robinhood aren't associated with the regulatory framework covering their accounts. For instance, Robinhood is a very sleek and minimal application, and investor tools are rudimentary compared with those of other major brokerages like TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (AMTD) and E*Trade Financial Corporation (ETFC). This can lead to hasty and uninformed decision-making, especially for novice investors.
In addition, the Robinhood app makes it difficult to manage a diversified portfolio. Most reviewers suggest that tracking more than three or four positions isn't practical with Robinhood, which leads to overweighing your portfolio with one or two equities—never a good practice. The Robinhood platform currently permits only stock and ETF trades—bonds and mutual funds are excluded. Again, this risks tilting your portfolio toward a single asset class.
As a matter of convenience, Robinhood doesn't integrate with other financial management tools like Mint or Quicken, so there's no convenient way to track your holdings as a part of your overall financial picture outside the Robinhood app. In addition, there is no IRA account option, excluding investors from the tax savings and long-term benefits of retirement savings plans.
During large influxes of orders from many users at the same time, especially in highly volatile names, Robinhood has, in the past, experienced service interruptions and outages, which have led to customer complaints. This led to a $70 million settlement in June 2021 to cover losses experienced due to these outages, the largest such FINRA penalty. FINRA had fined Robinhood a much less severe $1.25 million in 2019 for best execution violations.
Is Robinhood Safe? FAQs
Is My Money Safe with Robinhood?
Investment accounts with Robinhood are covered by more than just the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which protects up to $500,000 for securities and cash or $250,000 for cash only per account. In fact, Robinhood also provides its brokerage customers with additional "excess of SIPC" coverage which provides an aggregate of $100 million of coverage—up to $1.5 million for cash and $10 million for securities per customer, after the SIPC coverage is exhausted.
What Is the Catch with Robinhood?
Robinhood was primarily designed for new investors, with a simple user interface and commission-free trades. However, more advanced investors will find that trades on the mobile platform can be limiting: trades tend to be routed based on payment for order flow, there is limited research or resources available, and there are no customization options.
Is it Safe to Enter My Social Security Number In Robinhood?
Robinhood's security team encrypts sensitive details such as social security numbers, ensuring that they will be safe from hackers.
Is Robinhood Really Free?
Robinhood offers commission-free trades in stocks, ETFs, and options. A more in-depth fee schedule is listed on its website, for example regarding regulatory trading fees.
The Bottom Line
For a certain class of investors, Robinhood may be the right tool at the right time. However, for long-term investors, IRA accounts with a mainstream broker may be a better alternative. In many cases, you can open a no-minimum account and get commission-free trades on many if not most ETFs while still having access to all the data, charts, tools, and educational resources you need to make informed decisions.