The furor surrounding GameStop and its stock price has consumed social media, business television, and the hopes and dreams of many retail investors. It has even convinced some folks that causing short-term economic damage to a few hedge funds is similar to shaking up the global financial market.
It isn't, but a lot of folks are doing some downright risky things with their personal capital all the same. And some of them are making those investments -- bets, let's be honest -- on platforms that have lowered barriers to buying and selling stocks by cutting trading fees to zero. Apps and services like Robinhood, Public, M1 Finance and Freetrade.
After noting reports that some traditional brokers were limiting access to GameStop and other so-called meme stocks, TechCrunch was curious what the newer, app-based investing services were doing for their own users.
A spokesperson for M1 Finance, a Midwest-based consumer fintech player that offers a basket of banking and investing services -- more on its growth here and here -- told TechCrunch via email that it wasn't taking "specific" steps regarding individual stocks.
But the company also provided a statement from its CEO, Brian Barnes. In his comment, Barnes drew a delineation between investing, and trading, which he likened to a casino, adding that his firm "question[s] whether short-term trading is predictable, sustainable or repeatable."
It isn't for nearly anyone, of course. Barnes went on to say that his company thinks that "ownership of great companies and assets at reasonable prices that compound for long periods of time is the most straightforward and repeatable way to build wealth," and that they have focused their company more around that ethos, "forego[ing] the mania of the moment."
In an email a Robinhood spokesperson directed TechCrunch to a comment that its CEO, Vlad Tenev, made on CNBC earlier today:
Like other brokerages do, we monitor volatility and we take steps as appropriate like raising the margin requirements. I do think it's wrong to assume though that most of our activity is characterized by trading of volatile stocks. As I've said before, most of our customers are what's called buy and hold. They deposit and buy over the long term.
Robinhood changed margin requirements for GameStop and AMC Entertainment to 100%, TechCrunch understands. And like M1, Robinhood doesn't allow users to short equities. So, there's that.
Something notable about the companies we are discussing is that not one of them wants to be labeled as the place where folks like to trade a lot. Which amuses me as cutting fees to zero, which they have largely done, is at once a great way to democratize investing, and, also, a great way to encourage folks to trade more frequently. And as the apps and services that offer free trading often make money when users trade (read this), their chatter about their users being focused on buying and holding always rings slightly thin.
Anyhoo, some apps are going as far as adding warnings. Public, a company that TechCrunch recently covered, said that the company has added "'High Risk' safety labels" to the meme stocks that are causing so much ruckus.
Public has long had a stated focus on building community over trading, which led to us having a question or two about when it is going to kickstart its monetization plans. The company did just hire a CFO, which makes this move appear in concert with its general ethos, so more to come there we presume.
And, finally, U.K.-based Freetrade. TechCrunch has covered the service before, making it a good company to rope into this group. Per the company, Freetrade restricts small-cap stocks to the subscription tier of its service, which should limit access amongst its user base to GameStop and other memetic equities.
The company also stressed that it does not offer options or "any other form of leveraged derivatives" and has made "huge investment in investor education and financial literacy."
So there's a general bent toward either building products that are not tuned for day trading in silly stocks or providing some protection against users' worst instincts amongst the cohort of companies that have also made it inexpensive to trade. There's tension there, akin to this.
But they can only do so much. People are dumb, and it's not looking like that's going to get much better anytime soon.