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Massachusetts regulators say Robinhood fails to protect investors

Massachusetts regulators say Robinhood fails to protect investors

Massachusetts securities regulators have filed a complaint against Robinhood accusing the trading app of using aggressive tactics to attract inexperienced investors, employing strategies such as gamification to entice continuous use of its service, and of failing to prevent outages on its platform.

In the administrative complaint, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin seeks a fine for Robinhood for "aggressively marketing itself to Massachusetts investors without regard for the best interests of its customers and failing to maintain the infrastructure and procedures necessary to meet the demands of its rapidly growing customer base".

Founded in 2013, Robinhood has grown into one of fintech's biggest stars, with around 13 million users, nearly half a million of which are based in Massachusetts.

During its rise, the company used advertising and marketing technique targeting younger people with "little, if any, investment experience," says the complaint.

Once it has signed up customers, Robinhood, "relentlessly bombards them with a number of strategies designed to encourage and incentivize continuous and repeated engagement with its application".

Specific examples of "gamification" cited by the complaint include "colorful confetti" appearing when trades are made and rewarding users who use the app daily with improved positions on the waitlist for a new cash management feature.

Meanwhile, the complaint notes that a March outage at Robinhood left millions of customers unable to benefit from historic market gains.

Robinhood, says the complaint, has been "aggressively targeting young, inexperienced investors, exposing Massachusetts investors and their assets to unnecessary trading risk, and falling far short of the fiduciary standard required of a broker-dealer registered in Massachusetts".

In a statement to CNBC, Robinhood says: "We disagree with the allegations in the complaint by the Massachusetts Securities Division and intend to defend the company vigorously."

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