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TECHNOLOGY

Why Robinhood Just Started Supporting Bitcoin and Ethereum

“We can make it a much healthier ecosystem,” says co-CEO Baiju Bhatt.

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BY Sonya Mann - 26 Jan 2018

Why Robinhood Just Started Supporting Bitcoin and Ethereum

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

On Thursday, millennial-friendly investment platform Robinhood announced its newest product: Robinhood Crypto. In addition to the stocks and ETFs that are Robinhood's bread and butter, users will be able to trade the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ether without any commission fees. (By contrast, Coinbase charges U.S. buyers from 1.49% to 3.99% to buy cryptocurrency, depending on the payment method.)

In addition to buying and selling BTC and ETH, Robinhood users will be able to track information about 14 more cryptocurrencies, from Litecoin to Ripple to Zcash to Monero and so on. Don't worry: Meme-inspired Dogecoin is also on the list.

Robinhood Crypto won't be available everywhere right away. During February, the product will roll out gradually to users in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, and New Hampshire. "We hope to have it available to most consumers in the U.S. in the first half of the year," co-CEO Baiju Bhatt said in a phone call, explaining that the delay is due to regulatory requirements. In general, he added, "Our goal is to roll [new products] out slowly and steadily."

The company internally committed to building Robinhood Crypto near the end of spring 2017. "Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, they had this resiliency," Bhatt said, and the importance of the technology began to feel self-evident. "Towards the fall we started really doubling down on engineering." He sees Robinhood's expansion as a boon for the cryptocurrency world: "We can make it much more stable, much more reliable, and a much healthier ecosystem."

Customers' cryptocurrency assets will be held in a combination of cold and hot storage (offline versus connected to the internet). Bhatt said that Robinhood's reputation will help give investors confidence: "We are legitimate players in the financial services industry. We've been operating for years in a tightly regulated space."

"We think that we can build a better product and give people better prices than they're getting today," Bhatt said. He called cryptocurrency investing "something that consumers are paying way too much for right now." He also pointed out that Robinhood Crypto will let users look at their entire active investment portfolio at once.

Courtesy of Rob

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For the time being, the startup is not focused on making money from Robinhood Crypto directly. "A lot of [cryptocurrency buyers and sellers] are first-time investors and we see an opportunity to guide that experience for people who are investing in crypto," Bhatt explained. "As consumers adopt crypto, we hope that they'll also be interested in trading equities and options."

"We see this as the entry point to financial services and investing for an entire new generation of investors," Bhatt said, suggesting Robinhood Crypto has the potential to "dramatically increase our growth rate." A company representative pointed out that Robinhood is already "the fastest-growing brokerage ever, with over 3 million users and $100 billion in transaction volume."

As for the retro design of Robinhood Crypto, it is inspired by 1980s styles like synthwave, with a touch of Blade Runner for good measure. "We have this goal of making crypto much more relatable to consumers by speaking to those cultural underpinnings of nostalgia," Bhatt said. "When you see the price move, the actual number has this awesome glitchy animation, where it looks like an analogue TV scanning." It's yet another oddity of the cryptocurrency world: Futuristic money paired with a throwback aesthetic.

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