Robinhood’s downtime as a stress test for the consumer fintech boom

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Earlier this week, the popular free stock trading service Robinhood suffered downtime over a two-day period. The company, a well-funded unicorn taking on incumbents in its industry, failed to operate properly when the public markets were surging on Monday (bad) and falling on Tuesday (very bad).

Complaints flooded investing forums and social media. Images of Robinhood account screens featuring huge losses from the periods of downtime (or missed upside) weren’t hard to find. For Robinhood, it wasn’t its first misstep, but it was perhaps its worst. Mishandling the rollout of a high-yield savings function? Embarrassing, but hardly a serious wound. Some options oddness? Eh, not the worst.

Going down during surging volatility? Much worse. The company is already in the market with apologies and some give-aways to try to stem the negative news cycle. But what’s notable so far is that, while you might expect to see rival apps and services to Robinhood boom in the wake of its downtime, it instead appears that only select competitors to the popular company are seeing a jump in downloads this week. And given the insane market movements, it’s hard to pin some of their gains on Robinhood instead of, say, what stocks are themselves doing.

I’d expected by today to have some data in hand that painted a starker picture for Robinhood, given that the company’s recent missteps triggered a lot of negative press and user reaction. Let’s peek at what numbers can tell us, and try to figure out if there’s a lesson for consumer fintech and finservies companies while we’re at it.