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Lawmaker calls Robinhood helpline to make point about customer service

Lawmaker calls Robinhood helpline to make point about customer service
© Aaron Schwartz

An Illinois lawmaker on Thursday during the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing on the recent Reddit-fueled stock market frenzy called the helpline for the market trading platform Robinhood and received the company’s voicemail. 

Rep. Sean CastenSean CastenHouse fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display MORE (D-Ill.) called the customer service line on speakerphone after addressing the death of 20-year-old Alex Kearns of Illinois, who took his life after believing he had accrued about $730,000 in loses on Robinhood, though this was later revealed to be a glitch in the online system. 

Kearns repeatedly attempted to contact a Robinhood representative, including emailing the company’s support team three times and not successfully being able to locate a phone number for the company. 

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Casten on Thursday said there was ultimately a response from Robinhood telling Kearns that his stock market positions were covered, “but by that point it was too late because he had taken his own life.”

During the hearing, Casten told Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev, “This was a gentleman who was 20 years old. Under Illinois law he was not allowed to buy a beer, but he was allowed to take on $730,000 in positions and exposure that he did not have the liquidity to cover.” 

“You mission, Mr. Tenev, is to democratize finance, but the history of financial regulation is to protect people like Alex Kearns from the system,” Casten added. 

“As the old joke goes, if you’re playing poker and you can’t see who the fish is at the table, you should leave the table because you’re probably the fish,” the congressman continued. “And there’s an innate tension in your business model between democratizing finance, which is a noble calling, and being a conduit to feed fish to sharks.”

After Tenev expressed his condolences to Kearns’s family and explained steps the company took to improve customer service, Casten called Robinhood’s helpline on speakerphone, seeking to simulate a situation in which a customer is seeking immediate guidance from the company. 

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A brief pre-recorded message can then be heard telling customers to visit Robinhood’s website or app for customer service support before hanging up on Casten. 

Kearns’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Robinhood earlier this month, alleging the company’s “reckless conduct directly and proximately caused the death of one its victims” through “misleading communications” about his investments and “virtually nonexistent” customer service. 

Robinhood is also facing class-action lawsuits from customers after the company restricted trading in GameStop and other stocks amid the r/WallStreetBets subreddit campaign that led to rapid stock market fluctuations earlier this month.