The online brokerage that promised to “de-mystify finance for all” agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $70 million to resolve allegations it misled millions of customers, approved trades for thousands of ineligible customers and failed to supervise technology that accepted customer orders.
The sanctions are the largest financial penalty ever ordered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which said it reflected the “scope and seriousness” of Robinhood’s violations.
The investing platform will pay regulators $57 million, along with $12.6 million in restitution with interest to thousands of harmed customers.
“This action sends a clear message — all FINRA member firms, regardless of their size or business model, must comply with the rules that govern the brokerage industry, rules which are designed to protect investors and the integrity of our markets. Compliance with these rules is not optional and cannot be sacrificed for the sake of innovation or a willingness to ‘break things’ and fix them later,” said FINRA’s Jessica Hopper in a statement announcing the regulatory enforcement action.
Robinhood attracted regulatory scrutiny earlier this year when investors used it to speculate on GameStop, AMC Entertainment and other so-called meme stocks that seemed to increase in value based on social media frenzy without the underlying financials. However, FINRA suggested its investigation stretched back five years.
During certain periods since September 2016, the firm has negligently communicated false and misleading information to its customers, FINRA claimed, concerning whether customers could place trades on margin, how much cash was in customers’ accounts, how much buying power or “negative buying power” customers had, the risk of loss customers faced in certain options transactions and whether customers faced margin calls.
FINRA pointed to the suicide of one Robinhood user who in a note found after his death, “expressed confusion as to how he could have used margin to purchase securities because, he believed, he had not ‘turned on’ margin in his account.” Robinhood also displayed to this individual, as well as others, inaccurate negative cash balances, FINRA said.
The regulating authority also accused Robinhood of failing to exercise due diligence before approving customers to place options trades, relying instead on algorithms with limited oversight. The firm also failed to supervise the technology it relied on to provide its broker-dealer services, FINRA said.
In settling the matter through the fine, Robinhood neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.
“Robinhood has invested heavily in improving platform stability, enhancing our educational resources, and building out our customer support and legal and compliance teams,” Robinhood spokesperson Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay told ABC News. “We are glad to put this matter behind us and look forward to continuing to focus on our customers and democratizing finance for all.”