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Robinhood vs. Acorns
The most popular stock trading apps go head to head.
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One app representing the symbol of strength and potential, pitched against another with a renegade spirit of helping the less privileged.
A disruptive ethos with a penchant for going to bat for the little guy is the common thread that runs through the identity of Robinhood and Acorns.
Robinhood compelled established players in the online brokerage industry to rewrite their rules and abolish commissions. Acorns, on the other hand, took to heart the concept that little drops of water make an ocean, consequently turning the spare change from their customers’ purchases into low-cost diversified portfolios.
“I’m not focused on people with money,” says Noah Kerner, Acorns co-founder and chief executive. “I care about hard-working Americans who are trying to build a better life every day.”
Robinhood, on the other hand, is equally as altruistically minded.
“We were making the top 1% of people wealthier,” ruefully says Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s co-CEO, concerning his earlier business ventures with Baiju Bhatt (Robinhood’s other co-CEO) designing software for algorithmic trading. “Robinhood pioneered commission–free investing in stocks,” adds Tenev, signaling the loftier vision Robinhood espouses, which is more intent on benefiting the less privileged, in the similar spirit of the folklore outlaw it was named after.
Here’s a quick comparison of the two investing platforms, side-by-side:
Accounts & Fees
$1, $2, or $3/month
Traditional brokerage account (stock, options, ETF, and cryptocurrency trading)
Investor Warning: All securities trading, whether in stocks, exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), options, or other investment vehicles, is speculative in nature and involves substantial risk of loss. Robinhood Financial encourages its Customers to invest carefully and to use the information available at the websites of the SEC at http://www.sec.gov and FINRA at http://FINRA.org.
It is evident that both these app-based stock brokerages don’t have any competing ideology. However, how they execute their respective vision of helping the little guy informs whether they are suitable for one type of investor or the other.
While Robinhood assumes you’re a savvy investor who has the capacity to do your homework, Acorns aims to make your investing experience as easy as possible with its spare-change savings tool and cash-back rewards program.
But like most things in life, the comparison between them is more nuanced than assuming Robinhood requires a more hands-on approach, while Acorns is for the less-informed investors who need babysitting.
Therefore, this review aims to take a more layered approach to highlight the benefits and shortcomings that exist between these two.
What is Acorns?
Acorns rounds up everyday transactions, using the “spare change” to fund investments. Those who find it difficult to save on their own love the service, while most people in general are a fan of the flat fee structure.
Fast Facts and Features
Account Minimum: $0
Fees: $1, $2, or $3 per month, depending on the account type
Ideal for: New investors who want to save money with minimal effort
Investor Warning: Investing with Acorns involves risk, including loss of principal. Any references to past performance, regarding financial markets or otherwise, do not indicate or guarantee future results. Forward-looking statements, including without limitations investment outcomes and projections, are hypothetical and educational in nature. The results of any hypothetical projections can and may differ from actual investment results had the strategies been deployed in actual securities accounts. Prospective investors should consult their own financial and legal advisors about risks associated with securities and the suitability of investing in such securities.
If you are a young investor who has trouble saving, then Acorn is just what the doctor ordered. Their mantra is to help customers invest their virtual spare change and turn these relatively insignificant “rounding errors” into veritable investment vehicles.
Acorns isn’t just a micro-investing app; it also doubles as a robo-advisor as well. As a result, while it helps you make these investments, Acorns will also assist you in managing them also.
Acorn was designed to eliminate the intimidation factor associated with investing. Acorn’s objective is to remove the mental blocks associated with investing using the Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT). This theory postulates that diversification among asset classes is the primary investment objective.
Acorns embraces this diversity among its offerings, providing its customers with the ability to invest in low-cost, commission-free exchange traded funds (ETFs) from powerhouses like Vanguard, Blackrock + iShares. In addition to a taxable brokerage account, it comes bundled with IRAs.
What is Robinhood?
Robinhood have played a leading role in the industry move towards eliminating fees on stock trades. They are most suited to investors looking to make quick, easy and free trades through an app, without all the extra frills.
Investor Warning: Carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of any investment company before investing. All securities trading, whether in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), options, or other investment vehicles, is speculative in nature and involves substantial risk of loss. Robinhood Financial encourages its customers to invest carefully and to use the information available at the websites of the SEC at http://www.sec.gov and FINRA at http://FINRA.org.
Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt founded Robinhood from their entrepreneurial experience building stock trading software.
To provide a level playing field and democratize the investment landscape, they started Robinhood in 2013, and it quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the financial industry.
They might not have envisioned robbing the rich in their next endeavor, but their experience illuminated the fact that while large firms and institutions were spared the burden of paying for stock trades, that same privilege was not extended to the average investor who had to pay $10 per trade.
Robinhood is built to ensure that anyone who wants access to the financial markets is admitted. Hence, it doesn’t have any account minimums.
Of course, in order to be able to make a stock purchase, you’ll need to have enough in your account to buy the security. However, Robinhood has also made purchasing easier by recently introducing the fractional shares.
In other words, you can start small and grow the rate of your investments as you gain more know-how and momentum.
Pricing and Fees
Rounding up Your Change Like a Boss
However, Acorns’ business and operational model is quite intriguing. By turning on their automatic Round-Ups feature, Acorns will assist you by setting aside the leftover change from everyday purchases and investing it on your behalf.
It achieves this by rounding out the spending to the nearest dollar and subsequently investing the difference for you, via linking your checking account with a credit card. But its method isn’t mindless automatic savings, but a concerted approach to sweep up excess change from every purchase via a linked account into an investment portfolio.
Here’s how the Round-Ups feature works in practical terms: Assuming a customer makes a purchase for $4.27, Acorns proceeds to round up the purchase to $5.00 even, moving $.73 into a checking account designated by the customer. The subsequent step that follows is this: each time Round-Up extends to or goes over the $5 threshold, the funds are then placed into your investment account.
Because these transfers are likely to be numerous over the course of a month, it is not advised to use a savings account for this objective, as it is likely to contravene the federal limit that forbids exceeding six outgoing transfers each month very quickly.
Acorns gives users the option of transferring these funds into an investment portfolio, either automatically during the aforementioned purchases, or manually so that the user can go through recent purchases on the app and select which roundups they would prefer to be transferred.
If you are like the average shopper, then you are likely to make purchases that run into the dozens over the duration of a single month. Therefore, the amount that is actually moved into your investment account can be considerable after a while. For instance, assume you make 50 purchases with an average of $.50 in change for each transaction; this can amount to $25 transferred into your investment account for just that month.
Well, if these reasons weren’t already enough to incentivize you, Acorns also allows you to include “multipliers” to Round-Ups in order to boost the amount of money going into your investment account.
Imagine a scenario where you buy something for $3.50. Normally, Acorns through Round-Ups will allocate $.50 to transfer to your investment account. However, you can bypass this default allocation and have Round-Ups implement a 2x multiplier.
With this enabled, the investment is now $1.00. This feature is really attractive to investors looking to really accelerate their investment capacity, even allowing customers to add up to a 10x multiplier to their Round-Ups transactions!
Finding Money Through Other People’s Money
Another genius of Acorns platform lies with the Acorns’ Found Money feature. Acorns works in collaboration with a handful of business partners to ensure that through Found Money, these businesses will contribute extra money to your investment account in the form of cashbacks!
Found Money is responsible for making sure that each time you utilize an Acorns-linked credit or debit card at a participating retailer, that retailer will subsequently contribute an extra amount of money into your Acorns’ account.
By collaborating with over 350 retailers such as Walmart, Airbnb, Nike, Warby Parker, Sephora, Lyft, and others, Acorns has been able to ensure that its customers are able to get cashback when shopping at these outlets. Most of the time, this cashback is seamlessly integrated so that you aren’t required to take any additional steps to get it; once you make a purchase with your card that is linked to an active Acorns account, Found Money rewards will deposit it into your account within 60 to 120 days.
With Found Money, Acorns has been able to take the delightful concept of building an investment portfolio out of other people’s money to the benefit of its customers. And this feature works independent of your Round-Ups – so you can begin to see how this dual tag-team features can both quickly increase your investment and savings contributions.
In addition to the Round-Ups automated process, an investor is also perfectly capable of making deposits and withdrawals at their own convenience.
There are no minimums required to open an account and for accounts under $5,000, an investor is only expected to pay $1 monthly. However, this fee is waived for students. As long as they provide evidence with a valid .edu address, they are eligible to use Acorns Invest free, for up to four years.
Though it started out with humble aspirations, offering automated investing for only $1 per month. However, it has expanded its portfolio through acquisitions to include more offerings in its menus such as bank and retirement accounts.
One of the major ways Robinhood is able to keep its costs down for customers is by maintaining its own clearinghouse. By operating its own clearing system, Robinhood can chip away at many account service fees that bloats costs for customers.
There are a multitude of ways this benefits the customer. For instance, if you normally paid $10 for broker-assisted phone trades, thanks to Robinhood, that fee is now zero, zilch, and nada.
Where they couldn’t totally eliminate fees, they were able to drastically reduce them; like how they whittled down bank reversal fees from a hefty $30 down to a more manageable $9.
As a result of all these savings that Robinhood affords you, you can funnel and invest more in your account.
Acorns and Robinhood: Account Types
Acorns’ Account Types
This is the basement account that charges a single dollar a month and is free for college students. However, you might be restricted in your ability to take advantage of Acorns since Acorns is only currently available to U.S. residents, as at the time of this writing.
The most vital aspect of the Acorns account creation process is choosing your Round-Up account. This is the account you’ll monitor, upon which you’ll choose the transactions to round up and which the change will subsequently be deposited into for investment.
In choosing the bank to use for your Acorns Invest account, it is advisable to select among the most popular banks such as Wells Fargo, Chase, CitiBank, and so on. You can do a simple search for the particular bank you want in case it isn’t listed.
You’ll need to log into the selected bank with your credentials in order to link it to your Acorn account.
It must be noted that it appears that Acorns renamed Acorns Core to Acorns Invest fairly recently. However, in some online reviews and other mentions you are still likely to encounter the Acorns Core terminology being branded ubiquitously.
This is the account that enables you to ramp up savings and investments for your retirement quickly. Acorns Later provides account holders with either an IRA or individual retirement account.
To do so, it first guides you through a series of questions, after which it proposes the right kind of IRA account for the customer. Although it is recommended that you invest more, you can begin saving in Acorns Later with as low as $5, or even make one-time contributions, to build your retirement stash as fast as you want.
You must first become an Acorns Invest account holder after which you can subsequently upgrade to Acorns Later. In case you’re already an Acorns Invest account holder, the process of signing-up for Acorns Later is as simple as logging into your account and clicking the menu item listed as “Acorns Later.”
Like most things Acorns, the initial price for Acorns Later isn’t prohibitive, costing only a flat fee of $2 each month. This fee doesn’t change until your account value reaches $1 million. Thereafter, the cost balloons to $100 a month for every million dollars you possess in the account; but this isn’t exactly bank-breaking when juxtaposed against the amount that the account it is servicing.
Acorns recently introduced what it touts as the only debit card that simultaneously saves and invests for you. Acorns Spend functions as both an online checking account and debit card (a rather fancy one made of tungsten, which is a heavy metal, instead of the run-of-mill plastic commonly used).
This unique product combines a debit card with a checking and investment account, aptly similar to a money management portal all integrated into one package. Apart from incorporating spending tips and strategies, it provides other amenities such as no overdraft fees, and no minimum balance fees.
Acorns Spend comes with a plethora of other free benefits such as free bank transfers, free ATM reimbursements, and free mobile check deposits. Acorns Spend demands no minimums and comes with no punitive overdraft fees.
Apart from offering real-time round-ups that go into your investment, when dealing with Acorn Spend you can sleep well at night, rest assured that your money is safe because it’s checking account enjoys FDIC protection (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) for up to $250,000. Its security also comes with a card lock that is all-digital, facilitated with fraud protection.
Before you can be allowed to become an Acorn Spend member, you first need to have an Acorns Invest account. How much does Acorn Spend cost you ask?
How does Acorn go about determining which type of risk an investor is able to stomach? Well, the process starts once the prospective customer has completed a questionnaire focused on a multitude of components such as investment goals, income, time horizon, age, and their risk preference.
Based on the responses given, the Acorns proceeds to place the investor in one of the following categories of risk tolerance:
Acorns divides their portfolio into six broad investor classes through their partnership with Vanguard, supplying over 7,000 stocks which ensures that your portfolio is diversified.
Bank-grade 256-bit encryption keys protect your data on the Acorns platform. Like most micro-investment apps, it is also a member of Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC)
SIPC’s standard practice is to safeguard the securities of its member’s customers by up to $500,000. This also includes $250,000 for claims for cash.
Investing made easy for customers by automatically investing spare change
Provides cashback privileges at select retailers.
Provides educational content
No minimum investment required to get started.
Free for college students
The high fee is disproportionate to the small account balances.
No tax benefits whatsoever.
Limited investment options
Robinhood’s Account types
Robinhood Instant is the free, introductory account that provides you with instant access to your funds, without having to wait for the usual three days for settlement periods or bank transfers.
Apart from making bank transfers of up to $1,000 instantly available, Robinhood Instant also ensures that you have instantaneous access to your funds after the sale of your stock.
Although it doesn’t eliminate costs per se, Robinhood Instant’s ability to remove most of the friction associated with the wait period in accessing your funds is a welcome delight.
If all they do is give away stuff for free à la Robin Hood in the popular fairytale, then how do they actually make money to sustain their operations? Well, the answer lies in Robinhood Gold, which is their higher tiered account.
Robinhood generates revenue from Robinhood Gold, which is a paid service that offers a margin trading account. It starts from $5 a month and just like banks collect interest on cash deposits, Robinhood accrues interest from customers cash and stocks. In addition, it enjoys rebates from market markers and trading venues.
Robinhood Gold is for the group of investors who are more risk-tolerant, which is a necessary recipe for the riskier margin trading involved. For the uninitiated, margin trading is basically trading with borrowed money — so you better know what the heck you’re doing when trading with other people’s money.
This is an opt-in service, which comes with a flat fee based on the margin in addition to your account size.
Most investment apps provide some form of investment advice, which often includes up-to-the-minute education which is quite valuable in the same way that a stockbroker would do for a client. Unfortunately, Robinhood is devoid of all of these.
Therefore, an investor must do all their own homework ahead of time with no support whatsoever from the app. As a result, it is vital for Robinhood investors to know what they want and what they are looking for ahead of time as trades are executed in a flash. Robinhood subsequently handles functions like various orders: market orders, stop orders, limit orders and stop-limit orders.
Fortunately, Robinhood is gradually moving in the right direction by starting to provide relevant analyst ratings from a reputable independent investment research company.
Eliminates account minimums
Sparse, streamlined interface that enables you focus on investing
Enables investors perform cryptocurrency trading
Commission free trades
Limited product range as it lacks mutual funds and bonds
Anemic customer support
Few or non-existent educational materials
The Acorns platform provides a guideline for financial wellness that is easy and simple to follow. It has carved out a sensible niche by providing a credit card that both saves and invests for its customers at the same time. Its concept is so refreshing you wonder why others didn’t bother thinking about or implementing it with such zest in the first place.
Just like a robo-advisor, Acorns provides passive investing, but its Round-Ups feature enables you to passively save money, as well. In addition, Acorns allows customers to link an unlimited number of card debit and credit cards to their account, as long as they choose the Acorns Spend account.
This translates into accelerating your saving process by having spare change moving into your investment account from various sources.
The in-built automatic savings features makes the process of saving money effortless, especially by embedding it into routine spending activities and money will immediately find its way into your investment account. This is especially good for college students, to inculcate in them the habit of investing and savings early in their young adult life.
However, while Round-Ups is a well-intentioned innovation, the novelty quickly wears off and you might as well just set up an automatic deposit. The feature is really a game-changer for those who don’t otherwise have much money in their checking accounts but nevertheless want to save and invest.
While you can admire Acorns’ high-minded idealism in helping the little guy avoid paying trading fees just like the big trading brokerages, Acorn’s fees at $1, $2, or $3 might not seem like a clear and present danger to the fortunes of the small-time investor, but they can cut in and entirely wipe off their investment returns.
Acorns also plays hardball when you try to transfer or move your investments out from the platform to another provider. It charges a hefty fee for that convenience, demanding $50 per ETF to transfer investments.
Not only is this on the high side when compared to others that charge a similar fee, but things can really get scary if you have a lot of ETFs and say you want to transfer about five of them, then you are looking at a whopping $250!
All these together rather put a damper on the concept of looking out for the small-investor that it brands itself as doing.
Unlike Robinhood, Acorns doesn’t provide any non-ETF investments such as bonds or individual stocks.
Though Robinhood is stellar in many respects, it isn’t without its blemishes. Although you need to come to the platform with some already in-built investment knowledge, its critics nevertheless complain that it is so deficient in several areas as not to be regarded as a full service platform.
It lacks advanced trading tools, educational resources and ways to gain more investment knowledge unlike most of its counterparts, and is quite limited in its range of investing options. For instance, Robinhood doesn’t allow you to trade bonds or mutual funds, or even open an IRA.
Acorns vs Robinhood Summary
Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery and Robinhood’s fee-free model has been so extensively copied that it has now transformed the financial landscape with its commonality.
Robinhoods stripped down app, both in terms of functionality and support, enables more experienced investors not to be distracted by “white noise” of bells-and-whistles, allowing them to focus exclusively on trades.
Instead of crudely saving spare change in a jar, Acorns’ Round-Ups makes your investing march in lockstep with your purchases and expenses. There is no better platform than Acorns with the deftness to leverage something usually overlooked like spare change; turning the seemingly insignificant into an investing goldmine.
But its lofty ideal is somewhat diminished by the manner Acorn’s fees eats into the small balances of the little guy it is purportedly trying to help.
Robinhood isn’t without its blemishes and detractors too, with critics bemoaning how it facilitates investors to take risks. “I liken it to giving the keys of a sports car to a 12-year-old,” declared Tara Falcone, the founder of ReisUP, which is a financial education company.
Find out how Robinhood and Acorns stack up against other competition.
All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on TheTokenist.io. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.
Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim served as a Senior Associate on the investment team at RW Baird's US Private Equity division, and is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital, an investment firms specializing in sensing, protection and control solutions.
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