Robinhood’s 3% interest checking & savings may not be properly insured

Robinhood’s new high-interest, zero-fee checking and savings feature seems to be too good to be true. Users’ money may not be fully protected. The CEO of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, a non-profit membership corporation that insures stock brokerages, tells TechCrunch its insurance would not apply to checking and savings accounts the way Robinhood claims. “Robinhood would be buying securities for its account and sharing a portion of the proceeds with their customers, and that’s not what we cover” says SIPC CEO Stephen Harbeck. “I’ve never seen a single document on this. I haven’t been consulted on this.”

That info directly conflicts with comments from Robinhood’s comms team, which told me yesterday users would be protected because the SIPC insures brokerages and the checking/savings feature is offered via Robinhood’s brokerage that is a member of the SIPC.

If Robinhood checking and savings is indeed ineligible for insurance coverage from the SIPC, and since it doesn’t qualify for FDIC protection like a standard bank, users’ funds could be at risk. Robinhood co-CEO Baiju Bhatt told me that “Robinhood invests users’ checking and savings money into government-grade assets like US treasuries and we collect yield from those assets and pay that back to customers in the form of 3 percent interest.” But Harbeck tells me that means users would effectively be loaning Robinhood their money, and the SIPC doesn’t cover loans. If a market downturn caused the values of those securities to decline and Robinhood couldn’t cover the losses, the SIPC wouldn’t necessarily help users get their money back. 

Robinhood’s team insisted yesterday that customers would not lose their money in the event that the treasuries it invests in decline, and that only what users gamble on the stock market would be unprotected as is standard. But now it appears that because Robinhood is misusing its brokerage classification to operate checking and savings accounts where it says users don’t have to invest in stocks and other securities, SIPC insurance wouldn’t apply. “I have an issue with some of the things on their website about whether these checking and savings accounts would be protected. I refered the issue to the SEC” Harbeck tells me. TechCrunch has reached out to the SEC and will update if we hear back about its perspective on the issue.

Robinhood planned to start shipping its Mastercard debit cards to customers on December 18th with users being added off the waitlist in January. That might need to be delayed due to the insurance problem. We’ve repeatedly asked Bhatt and Robinhood’s team for a formal statement and clarification this morning, but have not heard back.

Robinhood touted how its checking and savings features have no minimum account balance, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees, or card replacement fees. It also has 75,000 free-to-use ATMs in its network, which Bhatt claims is more than the top five US banks combined. And its 3 percent interest rate users earn is much higher than the 0.09% average interest rate for traditional savings, and beats  most name brand banks outside of some credit unions.

But for those perks, users must sacrifice brick-and-mortar bank branches that can help them with troubles, and instead rely on a 24/7 live chat customer support feature from Robinhood. The debit card has Mastercard’s zero-liability protection against fraud, and Robinhood partners with Sutton Bank to issue the card. But it’s unclear how the checking and savings accounts would be protected against other types of attacks or scams.

Robinhood was likely hoping to build a larger user base on top of its existing 6 million accounts by leveraging software scalability to provide such competitive rates. It planned to be profitable from its margin on the interest from investing users’ money and a revenue sharing agreement with Mastercard on interchange fee charged to merchants when you swipe your card. But long-term, Robinhood may use checking and savings as a wedge into the larger financial services market from which it can launch more lucrative products like loans.

But that could fall apart if users are scared to move their checking and savings money to Robinhood. Startups can suddenly fold or make too risky of decisions while chasing growth. Robinhood’s valuation went from $1.3 billion last year to $5.6 billion when it raised $363 million this year. That puts intense pressure on the company to grow to justify that massive valuation. In its rush to break into banking, it may have cut corners on becoming properly insured.

[DIsclosure: The author of this article knows Robinhood co-founders Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev from college 10 years ago]

Three broker-dealers settle SEC charges over incomplete data

Broker-dealers Citadel Securities, Natixis Securities Americas LLC and MUFG Securities Americas Inc agreed to pay total penalties of more than $6 million to settle charges of providing incomplete trading data, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Monday.

Floyd Mayweather fined $600,000 for undisclosed cryptocurrency plugs

Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2014.

One of the strangest episodes in last year’s massive cryptocurrency boom was when boxer Floyd Mayweather posted an Instagram endorsement for a little-known cryptocurrency called Centra. In April, Centra’s founders were indicted for fraud, with the SEC saying that many of their claims were “simply false.”

In the summer of 2017, Mayweather wrote in an Instagram post that he was “spending bitcoins and ethereum and other types of cryptocurrency in Beverly Hills with my Titanium Centra Card.” He urged his millions of followers to “join Centra’s ICO on Sept. 19th.”

Another Mayweather post promoting a different cryptocurrency said “You can call me Floyd Crypto Mayweather from now on.”

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Apple Now Has 132K Full-Time Employees, Spent $14.2B on R&D in 2018 Fiscal Year

Following the conclusion of its 2018 fiscal year, which ended September 29, Apple today filed its annual Form 10-K [PDF] with the SEC. We’ve combed through the exhaustive, legalese-rich 72-page report so you don’t have to.



Highlights:

  • 9,000 more employees: Apple has 132,000 full-time employees as of the end of its 2018 fiscal year, up from 123,000 a year prior.

  • R&D expenses rose nearly $3 billion: Apple spent $14.2 billion on research and development in its 2018 fiscal year, a nearly 23 percent increase over the $11.5 billion it spent in its 2017 fiscal year.

  • Apple continues to execute its share repurchase program: Apple had 23,712 shareholders of record as of October 26, 2018, down from 25,333 as of October 20, 2017. There were 4,754,986,000 outstanding shares of Apple stock as of the end of its 2018 fiscal year.

  • Genius Bar expenses are down: Apple’s expenses from warranty claims totaled $4.1 billion in its 2018 fiscal year, down from $4.3 billion in its 2017 fiscal year and $4.6 billion in its 2016 fiscal year.

  • CapEx to drop: Apple anticipates utilizing approximately $14 billion for capital expenditures during its 2019 fiscal year, down from $16.7 billion in its 2018 fiscal year. The capital is used towards Apple’s manufacturing equipment, data centers, corporate facilities, and retail stores.

  • Apple snaps up more office space: Apple owned 16.5 million square feet and leased 24.3 million square feet of building space as of September 29, 2018. By comparison, Apple owned 13.4 million square feet and leased 23.0 million square feet of building space as of September 30, 2017.

Apple’s annual Form 10-K also acknowledges that “international trade disputes” could adversely affect its business, almost certainly referring to an ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China:

International trade disputes could result in tariffs and other protectionist measures that could adversely affect the Company’s business. Tariffs could increase the cost of the Company’s products and the components and raw materials that go into making them. These increased costs could adversely impact the gross margin that the Company earns on its products. Tariffs could also make the Company’s products more expensive for customers, which could make the Company’s products less competitive and reduce consumer demand. Countries may also adopt other protectionist measures that could limit the Company’s ability to offer its products and services. Political uncertainty surrounding international trade disputes and protectionist measures could also have a negative effect on consumer confidence and spending, which could adversely affect the Company’s business.

Apple’s annual Form 10-K can be viewed or downloaded in a variety of formats from the company’s Investor Relations website.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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SEC settlement sends Tesla stock soaring

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Tesla’s stock is up by more than 16 percent in early Monday trading after Elon Musk signed a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the weekend. Monday’s gains erased Friday’s 14-percent plunge after the SEC filed its lawsuit late on Thursday.

Musk’s dispute with the SEC arose from an August 7 tweet in which Musk claimed to have “funding secured” to take the company private at $420 per share. But it quickly became clear that Musk’s funding commitment—supposedly from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund—was informal at best. The SEC eventually sued Musk for securities fraud on Thursday. Musk initially vowed to fight the charges, but after Tesla’s stock cratered on Friday, Musk backtracked and settled the case on Saturday.

While Musk technically capitulated to the SEC over the weekend, he signaled Monday morning that he has no intention of behaving himself in the future:

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Tesla shares jump after Musk settles with SEC

Shares of Tesla Inc jumped nearly 16 percent on Monday after Chief Executive Elon Musk settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over charges of misleading investors, heading off moves to force him out.

Tesla is outgrowing Elon Musk

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Tesla’s battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission could be the company’s biggest crisis in almost a decade. And it all started with a tweet.

“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” Musk wrote on August 7. “Funding secured.”

Tesla shares soared. But it quickly became apparent that Musk didn’t actually have a commitment from anyone to fund a buyout—at least not in writing. That caught the SEC’s attention. The SEC quickly began investigating Musk’s tweets for possible violation of securities laws, which prohibit manipulating markets by publishing inaccurate information.

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Here is the SEC complaint against Elon Musk and Tesla

Update: There’s a live stream of the SEC press conference detailing the complaint:

The Securities and Exchange Commission lodged a complaint today against Elon Musk following tweets sent last month by the CEO involving a planned private takeover of the electric car company at $420 a share.

The filing from the Southern District of New York identifies the tweets as “false and misleading,” adding:

Musk’s statements, disseminated via Twitter, falsely indicated that, should he so choose, it was virtually certain that he could take Tesla private at a purchase price that reflected a substantial premium over Tesla stock’s then-current share price, that funding for this multi-billion dollar transaction had been secured, and that the only contingency was a shareholder vote. In truth and in fact, Musk had not even discussed, much less confirmed, key deal terms, including price, with any potential funding source.

In addition to the August 7 “funding secured” statement, the document identifies three additional tweets,

  1.  My hope is *all* current investors remain with Tesla even if we’re private. Would create special purpose fund enabling anyone to stay with Tesla.
  2. Shareholders could either to [sic] sell at 420 or hold shares & go private.”
  3. Investor support is confirmed. Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote.

Musk responded to the complaint, calling it an “unjustified action.” The company’s stock price just took a massive dip on the news.