No-commission stock trading app Robinhood will let you buy and sell Bitcoin and Ethereum without any added transaction fees starting in February, compared to Coinbase’s 1.5 to 4 percent fees in the US. And as of today Robinhood will let all users track the price, news, and set up alerts on those and 14 other top crypto coins, including Litecoin and Ripple.
“We’re planning to operate this business on break even basics and we don’t plan to profit from it for the foreseeable future” says Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev. “The value of Robinhood Crypto is in growing our customer base and better serving our existing customers.”
By essentially using crypto trading as a loss leader instead of its primary business like Coinbase and other apps, Robinhood could substantially expand beyond the 3 million users it already has. Simplifying trading and tracking could bolster Bitcoin and Ethereum. And by combining it with traditional equities trading in a single app, Robinhood could further legitimize the cryptocurrency craze.
To back-up the new Robinhood Crypto feature, the company is adding new two-factor authentication options including integrations with authenticator apps to ensure people don’t get their wallets stolen and dumped. “There are several senior world class people that we’ve hired recently that are building the system in-house” says Tenev.
Many of the startups dealing in crypto are upstarts with questionable reputations. But five-year-old Robinhood has raised $176 million from top investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Index, and NEA that now value the company at $1.3 billion. There’s clear long-term benefit to rolling up crypto traders and using the feature as a wedge to get them to hold money with Robinhood where it earns interest, and pay for the Robinhood Gold premium tier for $6 to $200 a month that lets them borrow between $1,000 and $50,000.
“It puts power that’s historically been held by financial institutions in the hands of the people. I think that lines up directly with Robinhood’s mission to democratize the financial system” says Tenev.
Disclosures: The author of this article owns small positions in Bitcoin and Ethereum, and knows Robinhood’s founders from college.