Stock trading app Robinhood gets UK broker license – gpgmail


Robinhood, the Silicon Valley-based stock trading app that was recently valued by investors at $7.6 billion, has received regulatory approval in the U.K., breaking cover on its plans to set up shop in London (as reported exclusively by gpgmail 7 months ago).

Specifically, Robinhood International Ltd., a Robinhood subsidiary, has been authorised to operate as a broker (with some restrictions) in the U.K. by the Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates U.K. financial services. This gears Robinhood up for a U.K. launch, although the company is staying tightlipped on when exactly that will be.

In addition, Robinhood is disclosing that it has appointed Wander Rutgers as President of Robinhood International. He joins from London fintech Plum, where he headed up the startup’s investing and savings product, and prior to that is said to have led product, compliance and operations teams at TransferWise.

At Robinhood, Rutgers will lead the U.K. business and oversee the company’s new London office, which has already begun staffing up. Sources told me in April that Robinhood was busy hiring for multiple U.K. positions, including recruitment, operations, marketing/PR, customer support, compliance and product.

The company tells me it is also building out a London-based user research team so it can better find product-market fit here. Crudely building a localised version of Robinhood obviously won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, news that Robinhood is ramping its planned U.K. launch is interesting in the context of local fintech startups that have launched their own fee-free trading offerings.

First out of the gate was London-based Freetrade, which chose very early on to build a bona-fide “challenger broker,” including obtaining the required license from the FCA, rather than simply partnering with an established broker. The app lets you invest in stocks and ETFs. Trades are “fee-free” if you are happy for your buy or sell trades to execute at the close of business each day. If you want to execute immediately, the startup charges a low £1 per trade.

And just last week, Revolut finally launched its fee-free stock trading feature, albeit tentatively. For now, the feature is limited to some Revolut customers with a premium Metal card (which itself entails a monthly subscription fee) and covers 300 U.S.-listed stocks. The company says that it plans to expand to U.K. and European stocks as well as Exchange Traded Funds in the future. Noteworthy, my understanding is that Revolut doesn’t have its own broker license but is partnering with US broker DriveWealth for part of its tech and the required regulatory authorisation (it also explains why, for now, Revolut is offering access to U.S. stocks only).

In contrast, Freetrade has long argued that to innovate within trading, you need to build and own the full brokerage stack. It was the first mover in this regard amongst the new crop of “fee-free” trading apps in the U.K., though others, including Netherlands-based Bux and now Robinhood, have since taken the same path. Only time will tell if Revolut will be forced to do the same.

Another tidbit is that Revolut and Robinhood share investors, namely Index and DST. That makes for an interesting subplot as the two unicorns encroach on each other’s lawn. No conflict, no interest.


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The SEC wants disgraced VC Mike Rothenberg to cough up more than $30 million – gpgmail


Nearly three years ago, gpgmail reported on suspected fraud committed by Mike Rothenberg, a self-described “millennial venture capitalist” who’d made a name for himself not only by eponymously branding his venture firm but for spending lavishly to woo startup founders, including on Napa Valley wine tours, at luxury boxes at Golden State Warriors games and most famously, hosting an annual “founder field day” at the San Francisco Giants’s baseball stadium that later inspired a scene in the HBO show “Silicon Valley.”

The Securities & Exchange Commission had initially reached out to Rothenberg in June of 2016 and by last August, Rothenberg had been formally charged for misappropriating up to $7 million on his investors’ capital. He settled with the agency without making an admission of guilt, and, as part of the settlement, he stepped down from what was left of the firm and agreed to be barred from the brokerage and investment advisory business with a right to reapply after five years.

Now, comes the money part. Following a forensic audit conducted in partnership with the accounting firm Deloitte, the SEC is seeking $18.8 million in disgorgement penalties from Rothenberg, and an additional $9 million civil penalty. The SEC is also asking that Rothenberg be forced to pay pre-judgment interest of $3,663,323.47

How it arrived at that math: according to a new lawsuit filed on Wednesday, the SEC argues that Rothenberg raised a net amount of approximately $45.9 million across six venture funds from at least 200 investors, yet that he took “fees” on their capital that far exceeded what his firm was entitled to during the life of those funds, covering up these “misdeeds” by “modifying accounting entries to make his misappropriation look like investments, entering into undisclosed transactions to paper over diverted money, and shuffling investments from one [f]und to another to conceal prior diversions.”

Ultimately, it says, Deloitte’s examination demonstrated that Rothenberg misappropriated $18.8 million that rightfully belong to Rothenberg Ventures, $3.8 million of which was transferred to Rothenberg personally; $8.8 million of which was used to fund other entities under his control (including a car racing team and a virtual reality studio); and $5.7 of which was used to pay the firm’s expenses “over and above” the management and administrative fees it was entitled to per its management agreements.

We reached out to Rothenberg this morning. He has not yet responded to our request to discuss the development.

It sounds from the filing like there’s not much wiggle room to fight it. According to the SEC’s suit, the “Rothenberg Judgment” agreed upon last summer left monetary relief to be decided by a court’s judgment, one that “provides that Rothenberg accepts the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and does not contest his liability for the violations alleged, for the purposes of this motion and at any hearing on this motion.”

In the meantime, the lawsuit contains interesting nuggets, including an alleged maneuver in which Rothenberg raised $1.3 million to invest in the game engine company Unity but never actually bought shares in the company, instead diverting the capital to other entities. (He eventually paid back $1 million to one investor who repeatedly asked for the money back, but not the other $300,000.)

Rothenberg also sold a stake in the stock-trading firm Robinhood for $5.4 million, says the SEC, but rather than funnel any proceeds to investors, he again directed the money elsewhere, including, evidently, to pay for a luxury suite during Golden State Warriors games for which he shelled out $136,000.

In a move that one Rothenberg investor finds particularly galling, the SEC claims that Rothenberg then turned around and rented that box through an online marketplace that enables people to buy and sell suites at various sports and entertainment venues, receiving at least $56,000 from the practice.

In an apparent effort to keep up appearances, Rothenberg also gave $30,000 to the Stanford University Athletics Department (he attended Stanford as an undergrad) and spent thousands of dollars on ballet tickets last year and early this year, says the SEC’s filing.

Regardless of what happens next, one small victor in the SEC’s detailed findings is Silicon Valley Bank, a sprawling enterprise that has aggressively courted the tech industry since its 1983 founding. Last year, at the same time that Rothenberg was agreeing to be barred from the industry, he made a continued show of his innocence by filing suit against SVB to “vindicate the interests of its funds and investors,” the firm said in a statement at the time.

The implication was that SVB was at fault for some of Rothenberg’s woes because it had not properly wired money to the correct accounts, but the SEC says that SVB was defrauded, providing Rothenberg a $4 million line of credit after being presented with fabricated documents.

A loser — other than Rothenberg and the many people who now feel cheated by him — is Harvard Business School. The reason: it used Rothenberg Ventures as a case study for students after Rothenberg graduated from the program. As we’ve reported previously, that case study — funded by HBS before any hint of trouble at the firm had surfaced  — was co-authored by two professors who had a “significant financial interest in Rothenberg Ventures,” as stated prominently in a curriculum footnote.

Presumably, those ties gave confidence to at least some of the investors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who later provided Rothenberg with money to invest on their behalf.

You can read the SEC’s 20-page motion for disgorgement and penalties below, along with the 48-page report assembled by Deloitte’s forensic accounting partner Gerry Fujimoto.

SEC vs. Mike Rothenberg by gpgmail on Scribd

Forensic report re Mike Rothenberg/Rothenberg Ventures by gpgmail on Scribd

Additional reporting by gpgmail’s Sarah Perez.

Above: Rothenberg Ventures during better days.


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