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Robinhood launches... UK waiting list

Steve O'Hear

It is approaching a year since TechCrunch broke news that Robinhood was stealthily recruiting for a London office ahead of plans to expand to the U.K. And in August the U.S.-based company, which pioneered “commission-free” stock-trading states-side, announced it had received regulatory approval to operate this side of the pond, signalling that a U.K. launch was indeed imminent. Well, now the wait is almost over, with the launch of the Robinhood U.K. waitlist.

In a classic bait and switch PR briefing on Tuesday -- pitched as Robinhood introducing its investing platform to U.K. customers, which a number of local journalists, this one included, took to mean an actual launch -- co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev and President of Robinhood UK Wander Rutgers revealed that Robinhood UK will be opening its doors early next year.

"We're very excited to be announcing that our waitlist for Robinhood UK is going to be going live," said Tenev. "Customers will be able to sign up for early access to our commission free investing platform in the U.K. and it's very interesting for us because it will be our first live international market and a very important step for us to fulfil our mission to democratise access to the financial system".

"We expect the product to be in the hands of customers in Q1 of next year," clarified Rutgers.

When it does launch, Robinhood will initially offer what Rutgers described as "the best of Robinhood" to the U.K., including, of course, "commission-free" trading of stocks.

"It starts with our core platform: unlimited commission frees trades, no account minimums, and access to a huge range of equities from both the US and from across the world," he told TechCrunch. "Secondly, we will enable instant deposit, instant trading, without any foreign exchange fees. Users can fund very easily from from any U.K. back using a phone or debit card and withdraw just as easily".

In addition, the Robinhood UK app will include information to help with trading, including videos from the Wall Street Journal, CNN and Reuters, along with features to help users keep track of their investments, such as price movement alerts, analyst ratings, earnings, and being able to dial into earnings reports.

There will also be "Robinhood Snacks," Robinhood's daily podcast and newsletter, and "Robinhood Gold," the fintech's premium subscription service for qualifying professional investors.

What is particularly interesting about Robinhood's pending U.K. launch is that it won't be without direct competition. In the commission-free investing space, Freetrade was first out of the gate, and has since been joined by Revolut and Bux.

However, arguably, regardless of Robinhood's deep pockets, a rising tide could lift all boats in the neo broker space since these upstarts are trying to grow the market by introducing new, younger people to investing, not just stealing customers from incumbents that are charging higher fees.

"We've been very successful [in the U.S.] at attracting multiple types of customers," said Tenev. "You know of course there's your first time investor that doesn't have a brokerage account before and discovers investing through Robinhood's product. And, you know, we think there's a fair number of those types of folks in the U.K. as well. And then there's also customers that invest a little bit more actively and are familiar [with] the fees... I think we will be able to attract customers from that group as well."

Meanwhile, an intriguing element of any Robinhood-Revolut comparisons is that the two companies share a number of investors, namely Index and DST. Both companies also have incredibly high valuations, too.

"It's not something that we spend a lot of time talking to our investors about," said Tenev when asked if he was concerned that Revolut is now effectively a competitor, before delivering the standard startup narrative about focusing on customers not competitors.

"We're certainly aware of competitors and, you know, believe that there's things that we can learn from them but generally, you know, we found that if our focus is on the customer and listening really closely to them, we build products that customers love and.. that ends up working very well".

But how did Tenev react when first hearing that Revolut was launching zero-commission trading?

"I don't really remember the exact reaction that I had, but certainly, you know, having competitors and people entering our space is nothing new for us," answered the Robinhood co-CEO.