The company is letting go of roughly 9% of its workforce.
Tuesday was a memorable day in the short history of next-generation securities brokerage Robinhood Markets (HOOD -3.75%). But not in a positive way — especially for the company’s employees, a clutch of whom are about to lose their jobs.
Robinhood’s latest big piece of news could presage big problems at the company. Let’s try and determine if this is a sign investors should sell out of the stock.
Here come the pink slips
After trading hours on Tuesday, CEO Vlad Tenev announced that Robinhood is releasing around 9% of its workforce. That’s a high number for a business of any scope or size.
In a post on the company’s blog, Tenev said, “As you know, throughout 2020 and [the first half of] 2021, we went through a period of hyper growth accelerated by several factors including pandemic lockdowns, low interest rates, and fiscal stimulus.”
Across those periods, according to its boss, Robinhood grew its employee rolls by a factor of nearly six (from a total of 700 to almost 3,800). Tenev said that this “has led to some duplicate roles and job functions, and more layers and complexity than are optimal.” Hence the aggressive downsizing.
Robinhood’s business strategy doesn’t seem to be changing, though. The company intends to keep introducing new products for its customers in a variety of areas, including securities brokerage, cryptocurrency, and more basic segments of financial services. It’s also aiming to “continue to accelerate” its ambitions outside of the U.S.
The known unknowns
As is fairly typical in the early stages of these situations, Tenev’s announcement was light on specifics. He provided no estimates for how much severance and associated costs would impact Robinhood’s fundamentals, nor how much the company might be saving on labor expenses. He did hasten to point out that the company’s financial position is advantageous, as it has more than $6 billion in cash on its balance sheet.
So is this the beginning of the end, perhaps, for Robinhood?
Right now, we just don’t know. Without being privy to many particulars, this is nearly impossible to ascertain from the scraps of information provided.
What we can say is that, while today’s layoffs were unexpected, moves like this aren’t unheard of for companies like Robinhood. In many ways, Robinhood has behaved typically for a young company; fortified by the nearly $2 billion in proceeds it earned in its initial public offering (which took place at the end of last July), it has scaled up aggressively. Fast-growing companies have a tendency to add assets and people haphazardly, resulting in the kinds of redundancies mentioned by Tenev.
Robinhood is still more than willing to open its wallet to build its business; just last week, it announced the signing of a deal to acquire a U.K.-headquartered fintech with a strong cryptocurrency bent called Ziglu. As with the job cuts post, Robinhood didn’t provide many details of this purchase — including key bits of information like the price, means of payment, and sources of funding.
Investors often cheer cost-cutting moves. It’s not because they’re unsympathetic to the plight of the outgoing workers. Rather, they’re often hopeful that their company is getting its act together. In Robinhood’s case, they’re showing early skepticism — as of 7 p.m. ET, in after-hours trading, the stock was down nearly 3%, compounding its almost 4% slide during standard trading hours.
But for most of these investors, this sell-off represents only an educated guess, at best, about the deeper reasons for the cuts. Again, we simply don’t have enough information about the costs, the savings, and the potential effect on the company’s operations and finances from the move.
We should also bear in mind that, although Robinhood’s user base is largely a different demographic from that of a traditional brokerage like Charles Schwab, it offers many of the same products and services. As such, it has to remain competitive in its industry; hopefully for the company and its shareholders, it can manage to do so with a notably reduced workforce.
All in all, then, it’s probably not wise to panic-sell Robinhood stock purely in reaction to this latest news, discouraging as it may be.