FINRA Orders Record-High Financial Penalty Against Popular Stock-Trading App, Robinhood

On June 30, 2021, FINRA ordered an approximately $70 Million financial penalty against Robinhood Financial LLC, the highest such penalty ever levied by the regulatory organization.[1] Through its investigation of the firm, FINRA charged Robinhood with numerous violations which had resulted in significant losses to their customers. While Robinhood neither confirmed nor denied the validity of FINRA’s charges, they ultimately agreed to settle with these massive sanctions. [1]

FINRA noted three major violations from its investigation into Robinhood’s conduct and operations as a stock-trading app, each of which merited its own penalties.

First, FINRA found that Robinhood has pervasively and negligently provided false or misleading information to its customers. [1] This false information was circulated in spite of Robinhood’s core mission to “de-mystify finance for all” and “democratize finance,” and ranged from misrepresenting customer account balances and buying power, to erroneous communication about customers facing margin calls. [2]

As a result of Robinhood’s misrepresentations, FINRA is requiring the firm to pay over $7 Million in restitution to customers who suffered related losses.  [1]

Second, FINRA found that Robinhood did not exercise proper due diligence in its options trading offerings. [1] Given the financially risky character of options trading, Robinhood improperly outsourced an algorithm powered by artificial intelligence to determine customer options trading eligibility. The technology was riddled with inconsistencies, causing eligibility decisions to be made based upon incorrect customer information, and allowing ineligible customers to engage in options trading. [1]

Finally, FINRA also uncovered issues with Robinhood’s technological supervision of its core business tenets. For example, Robinhood experienced a widespread outage of its platform in early March 2020, during which operations halted.   Robinhood customers were unable to access their accounts for a period of two days, during which market volatility was incredibly high. This outage, which was only one of many similar situations, resulted in approximately $5 Million in customer losses, which Robinhood has now been ordered to pay in restitution. [1]

Beyond these three severe offenses, FINRA also found that Robinhood has violated several other rules as a brokerage firm in recent years. Robinhood has failed to report failures and customer complaints which are required by FINRA, and has also failed to show customers complete market data as they make sensitive decisions about securities trading.

Robinhood, for its part, responded to the charges by stating that they are actively improving their educational resources, customer support capabilities, and legal and compliance teams. [2] They are “glad to put his matter behind [them]” with a renewed focus on the continued democratization of finance for all. [2]

FINRA’s message through these sanctions is clear – violate brokerage industry rules, pay the price. Its Head of Enforcement, Jessica Hopper, added that “all FINRA member firms, regardless of their size or business model, must comply with the rules that govern the brokerage industry . . . to protect investors and the integrity of our markets.” [1][2]

Given Robinhood’s exploding popularity among retail investors, particularly during the pandemic, this settlement should be a reassuring sign to investors that FINRA is taking its duty to protect their interests seriously. On the same token, customers of platforms like Robinhood should remain diligent in their financial decisions and report any potential issues for assessment by either the firm or by FINRA itself.




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