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The feature will be available in five states before it sees a wider rollout.
Robinhood, the stock trading app for millennials, is adding 24/7 commission-free cryptocurrency trading, a move that could help Bitcoin and other virtual currency in their quest to gain mainstream recognition.
The online brokerage startup announced on Tuesday that, starting in February, its 2 million users will be able to buy and sell bitcoins and Ethereum, the two most popular virtual coins. The feature will first be available for users in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, and New Hampshire when Robinhood starts its gradual rollout.
The company is adding support for cryptocurrencies in response to customer demand. The price of a single bitcoin has skyrocketed over the past 12 months. It now sits at around $11,100—more than 10 times its value at the start of 2017. In addition, Robinhood will let customers track prices, get news, and receive alerts from 16 cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, XRP, Ethereum Classic, Zcash, Monero, Dash, Stellar, Qtum, Bitcoin Gold, OmiseGo, NEOLisk, and fan-favorite Dogecoin.
Cryptocurrency is a form of digital money that isn’t regulated by banks or the government. It uses cryptography techniques to ensure secure transactions and control the creation of new units.
The move puts pressure on Coinbase—the most popular cryptocurrency-trading service in the U.S.—which charges a 1.5 to 4 percent fee. According to Recode, Coinbase earned $1 billion in revenue last year. With Robinhood, investors can transfer $1,000 directly from their bank account to start trading cryptocurrency without a fee. Additional funds will go through the slower automated clearing house (ACH) system.
“We’re planning to operate this business on a break-even basis and we don’t plan to profit from it for the foreseeable future,” Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev told TechCrunch. “The value of Robinhood Crypto is in growing our customer base and better serving our existing customers.”
It’s a risky move for the growing brokerage firm. The most valuable digital currency still faces major roadblocks, primarily a lack of government regulation, which has caused it to jump and sink with reckless abandon. Robinhood is aware of the risks of investing in cryptocurrency. In the fine print of its website, the company outlines numerous reasons for why you shouldn’t engage in cryptocurrency trading.
“Trading in cryptocurrencies comes with significant risks, including volatile market price swings or flash crashes, market manipulation, and cybersecurity risks,” the website states. “Cryptocurrency trading may not generally be appropriate, particularly with funds drawn from retirement savings, student loans, mortgages, emergency funds, or funds set aside for other purposes. Cryptocurrency trading can lead to large and immediate financial losses.”
We’ve seen that sort of volatility firsthand over the past few months. Bitcoin experienced one of its worst months to start 2018, at one point dropping 50 percent from the high price it reached last year. In mid-January, all but two of the top 50 virtual coins were falling in value.
Acceptance from popular financial services like Robinhood may be exactly what Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies need to rebound and bring legitimacy to the industry.
Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.