The UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned stock trading app operators to review design features, including those with game-like elements, which risk prompting consumers to take actions against their own interest.
Features include sending frequent notifications with the latest market news and providing consumers with in-app points, badges and celebratory messages for making trades. The FCA has found that consumers using apps with these kind of features were more likely to invest in products beyond their risk appetite.
Alongside its warning to app-operators, the FCA has published research that raises concerns that customers using such trading apps are exposed to high-risk investments, and that some appear to exhibit behaviours similar to problem-gambling.
Whilst gamification can be used to engage consumers positively, the FCA found it being applied in ways that may mislead consumers or lead to poor outcomes.
Sarah Pritchard, executive director of markets at the FCA, comments: "Some product design features could be contributing to problematic, even gambling-like, investor behaviour. We expect all firms that offer stock trading to consumers to review and, where appropriate, make improvements to their products based on these findings. They should also ensure they are providing support to their customers, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances or those showing signs of problem gambling behaviour."
In total, 1.15m new accounts were opened by four trading app firms in the first four months of 2021, almost double the amount opened with all other retail investment services combined. Many of these customers were new to investing and younger than traditional investors.
Pritchard says the watchdog will do further research into trading app use and design features, in particular to understand some wider financial vulnerabilities for users of these apps, such as whether they borrow to invest and the scale of any losses. The FCA’s 2022 Financial Lives Survey found 9% of all adults with investments have borrowed to invest and 49% of these would not have been able to make the investment without doing so.