Robinhood's Double Soul: Meme Investing And Big Bucks From Wall Street by@gcuofano
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Robinhood's Double Soul: Meme Investing And Big Bucks From Wall Street

by Gennaro CuofanoJuly 3rd, 2021
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In *Understanding The Meme Economy *I explained some of the key highlights of meme investing during the pandemic. And among the most successful platforms, that enabled anyone to trade these meme stocks Robinhood played a key role.

However, I also explained the double soul of Robinhood. On the one hand, the mission of “democratizing finance” and on the other hand making big bucks from payments for order flow or “PFOF.”

Now finally the Robinhood prospectus is out we can finally look under the hood of the company to understand how its revenues are broken up.

As highlighted in Robinhood's financial prospectus most of its revenues in 2021 were transaction-based. As we'll see this means that Robinhood is making most of its revenues from payment per order flow.

During the pandemic, Robinhood managed to increase all its KPIs, primarily thanks to meme stocks, and crypto investing, which draw to the platform millions of new users.

Among the assets that recorded an exponential growth for Robinhood, equities, and options - driven by meme stocks like GameStop and AMC, cryptocurrency investing - primarily driven by Dogecoin; made up the incredible growth in assets traded on the platform and therefore the fees taken by Robinhood.

Within the transaction-based revenues, most of them came from market makers. And among those Citadel Security represented 34% of the total market maker revenues for Robinhood. This is relevant because Citadel Securities LLC is the largest market maker in the US, which during the short squeeze from Redditors bailed out hedge fund Melvin Capital.

Wall Street As Main Customer

As the company highlighted in its financial prospectus:

We primarily earn transaction-based revenues from routing user orders for options, equities and cryptocurrencies to market makers when the performance obligation is satisfied, which is at the point in time when a routed order is executed by the market maker. The transaction price for options is on a per contract basis, while for equities it is primarily based on the bid-ask spread of the underlying trading activity. For cryptocurrencies, the transaction price is a fixed percentage of the notional order value. For each trade type, all market makers pay the same transaction price. Payments are collected monthly in arrears from each market maker.

And it continued:

Because a majority of our revenue is transaction-based (including payment for order flow, or “PFOF”), reduced spreads in securities pricing, reduced levels of trading activity generally, changes in our business relationships with market makers and any new regulation of, or any bans on, PFOF and similar practices may result in reduced profitability, increased compliance costs and expanded potential for negative publicity.

How do these transactions are computed?

Robinhood explains:

A majority of our revenue is transaction-based, in that we receive consideration in exchange for routing our users’ equity, option and cryptocurrency trade orders to market makers for execution. With respect to equities and options trading, such fees are known as PFOF. With respect to cryptocurrency trading, we receive “Transaction Rebates.” In the case of equities, the fees we receive are typically based on the size of the publicly quoted bid-ask spread for the security being traded; that is, we receive a fixed percentage of the difference between the publicly quoted bid and ask at the time the trade is executed. For options, our fee is on a per contract basis based on the underlying security. In the case of cryptocurrencies, our rebate is a fixed percentage of the notional order value. Within each asset class, whether equities, options or cryptocurrencies, the transaction-based revenue we earn is calculated in an identical manner among all participating market makers. We route equity and option orders in priority to participating market makers that we believe are most likely to give our customers the best execution, based on historical performance, and we do not consider transaction fees when routing orders. For cryptocurrency orders, we route to various market makers that we believe offer competitive pricing, and we do not consider Transaction Rebates when routing cryptocurrency orders.

Doge Represented Most Of Robinhood Growth For Crypto Assets

As highlighted in its financial prospects:

A substantial portion of the recent growth in our net revenues earned from cryptocurrency transactions is attributable to transactions in Dogecoin. If demand for transactions in Dogecoin declines and is not replaced by new demand for other cryptocurrencies available for trading on our platform, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.

Dogecoin was so important in terms of revenue streams related to crypto investing, that in Robinhood prospectus it was highlighted how the company would be negatively affected “if the markets for Dogecoin deteriorate or if the price of Dogecoin declines, including as a result of factors such as negative perceptions of Dogecoin or the increased availability of Dogecoin on other cryptocurrency trading platforms.”

Who Are Robinhood Customers?

As highlighted in the financial prospects “from January 1, 2015 to March 31, 2021, over half of the customers funding accounts on our platform told us that Robinhood was their first brokerage account.”

And it continued “as of March 31, 2021, approximately 70% of our AUC came from customers on our platform aged 18 to 40, and the median age of customers on our platform was 31.”

Here you find the full Robinhood financial prospectus!