Robinhood, the Silicon Valley-based stock trading app that was recently valued by investors at $ 7.6 billion, has received regulatory approval in the U.K., breaking cover on its plans to set up shop in London (as reported exclusively by TechCrunch 7 months ago).
Specifically, Robinhood International Ltd., a Robinhood subsidiary, has been authorised to operate as a broker in the U.K. by the Financial Conduct Authority (with some restrictions based on the permissions the company sought). This gears Robinhood up for a U.K. launch, although the company is staying tightlipped on when exactly that will be.
In addition, Robinhood is disclosing that it has appointed Wander Rutgers as President of Robinhood International. He joins from London fintech Plum, where he headed up the startup’s investing and savings product, and prior to that is said to have led product, compliance and operations teams at TransferWise.
At Robinhood, Rutgers will lead the U.K. business and oversee the company’s new London office, which has already begun staffing up. Sources told me in April that Robinhood was busy hiring for multiple U.K. positions, including recruitment, operations, marketing/PR, customer support, compliance and product.
The company tells me it is also building out a London-based user research team so it can better find product-market fit here. Crudely building a localised version of Robinhood obviously won’t cut it.
Meanwhile, news that Robinhood is ramping its planned U.K. launch is interesting in the context of local fintech startups that have launched their own fee-free trading offerings.
First out of the gate was London-based Freetrade, which chose very early on to build a bona-fide “challenger broker,” including obtaining the required license from the FCA, rather than simply partnering with an established broker. The app lets you invest in stocks and ETFs. Trades are “fee-free” if you are happy for your buy or sell trades to execute at the close of business each day. If you want to execute immediately, the startup charges a low £1 per trade.
And just last week, Revolut finally launched its fee-free stock trading feature, albeit tentatively. For now, the feature is limited to some Revolut customers with a premium Metal card (which itself entails a monthly subscription fee) and covers 300 U.S.-listed stocks. The company says that it plans to expand to U.K. and European stocks as well as Exchange Traded Funds in the future. Noteworthy, my understanding is that Revolut doesn’t have its own broker license but is partnering with US broker DriveWealth for part of its tech and the required regulatory authorisation (it also explains why, for now, Revolut is offering access to U.S. stocks only).
In contrast, Freetrade has long argued that to innovate within trading, you need to build and own the full brokerage stack. It was the first mover in this regard amongst the new crop of “fee-free” trading apps in the U.K., though others, including Netherlands-based Bux and now Robinhood, have since taken the same path. Only time will tell if Revolut will be forced to do the same.
Another tidbit is that Revolut and Robinhood share investors, namely Index and DST. That makes for an interesting subplot as the two unicorns encroach on each other’s lawn. No conflict, no interest.