Regulators said the trading app should pay restitution to users like the 20-year-old who committed suicide after an erroneous negative balance appeared in his account.
The U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is penalizing Robinhood to the tune of roughly $70 million based on the results of an investigation into the stock and cryptocurrency trading app.
In a Wednesday announcement, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, said it had ordered Robinhood to pay $57 million in fines to the regulatory body as well as provide roughly $12.6 million in restitution to certain customers. FINRA alleged the trading platform caused “widespread and significant harm” to thousands of users and exhibited “systemic supervisory failures” starting as early as September 2016.
“The fine imposed in this matter, the highest ever levied by FINRA, reflects the scope and seriousness of Robinhood’s violations, including FINRA’s finding that Robinhood communicated false and misleading information to millions of its customers,” said the head of FINRA’s department of enforcement Jessica Hopper.
The false information to which FINRA referred includes allegations Robinhood misrepresented margin trades, users’ cash holdings in the app accounts, the risk of loss in options transactions, how much buying power users had, and information regarding margin calls. According to the regulatory body, “Robinhood neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.”
Regulators said the firm was responsible for paying $7 million in restitution to customers who reported seeing inaccurate negative cash balances in their accounts. The body referenced Alexander Kearns, a 20-year-old Robinhood user who committed suicide in June 2020 after an erroneous negative balance of more than $730,000 appeared in his account. In addition, FINRA ordered the trading platform to pay more than $5 million to users affected by Robinhood’s outages between 2018 and 2020, alleging that many users had lost up to tens of thousands of dollars in trades the platform was unable to execute during significant market volatility.
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The penalties paid to FINRA directly seem to be based on Robinhood’s company policies and apparent failure to provide a clear picture of market data for customers. The regulatory body said between January 2018 and December 2020 the trading platform failed to report thousands of user complaints to FINRA following all the aforementioned issues. In addition, Robinhood’s process to approve customers for options trading relied on algorithms rather than “firm principals.” FINRA said this method had resulted in the approval of thousands of users who did not meet the company’s eligibility criteria or whose accounts should have otherwise been flagged.
The results of the FINRA investigation come as Robinhood is planning to move forward with an initial public offering, or IPO. However, the firm is currently under scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, reportedly resulting in the delay of the company going public. Robinhood initially planned to launch its IPO this month but has reportedly postponed the offering to July.
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