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Robinhood’s Role in the ‘Gamification’ of Investing

The website home screen for Robinhood.

The website home screen for Robinhood.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg
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First came discount brokerages in the 1970s, which made it cheaper to buy stocks. Then trading became commission-free, and smartphone apps made it possible to buy and sell stocks from anywhere. In the latest step toward democratizing investing, online brokerages led by Robinhood Markets Inc. in the U.S. are seeking to make buying and selling shares not just cheap but seamless and even fun. That’s drawn a new class of U.S. retail traders into the market. It’s also raised worries about what happens when the “gamification” of investing obscures the connection between price and value, fueling the phenomenon known as meme stocks.

Founded in 2013, Robinhood offers trading of stocks -- and more exotic financial products, including cryptocurrencies -- on a sleek phone app that has proved popular with investors who are young and dipping into markets for the first time. Robinhood users who can’t afford, say, the $3,200 or so to buy a single Amazon.com Inc. share can purchase a fraction of one instead. More than half of people using the app are first-time investors, according to the company.