I’d like to preface this by stating that this project is not a UX case study, nor is it a redesign or critique of Robinhood’s existing product, service, business model, company, and operations. Robinhood 2040 was my attempt at generating a future-casting scenario outside of my comfort zone, and creating a design strategy for how the company might evolve into this new future.
For those of you know me, you know that I identify as a capitalist in the traditional sense. A believer in a system which allows hard work and perseverance in combination with opportunity and determination, to allow people to generate financial and social success. Cronyism and Corporatism have been mistaken for and called Capitalism by a few in society today, and I find it necessary to state that those are not the philosophies I personally or professionally align with.
With this project, however, I wanted to explore this future-facing scenario through a lens different from my own. For that purpose, I generated a future scenario where there is a social backlash to the effects of Cronyism and Corporatism, this is reflected in the attitudes of the people and in the actions of the social, political, and economical landscape.
In addition to everything above, it is also important for me to state that this is an entirely fictional design case study. It was conducted as part of a class during the fall of my senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design. The opinions expressed in this case study are entirely my own and do not reflect the views or opinions of the Rhode Island School of Design, the Microsoft Corporation, or Robinhood Markets Inc.
Welcome to Robinhood
I have long been a user and lover of the Robinhood platform. The technology and design centric approach to creating a service easily accessible by the right demographic at the right time was not the result of luck.
Robinhood is a free-trading app that’s ideal for investors who seek the ability to buy a wide selection of stocks, options and ETFs without paying commissions or fees.
The firm was founded by Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt in 2013, who had previously built high-frequency trading platforms for financial institutions in New York City. Their experience with the industry, and expertise with the technology, combined with the right product-market fit set them up for success. Vlad and Baiju didn’t get Robinhood here without the work. Robinhood has had to punch up against longstanding banking institutions but has shown the ability to hold its own in the face of insurmountable challenges.
For those who are new to the financial world, some basic key terms which will be helpful are: ETF, Legacy Investors, FIAT Currencies, and IPO.
The Product and Its Users
Robinhood differentiated itself by providing trades for free. A value proposition that traditional banks and exchanges had never offered before. Using a radically new business model in the industry, Robinhood created the perfect product-market fit by laying a new foundation for its tech savvy Millennial target demographic in the investing world.
Let’s talk a little bit more about that target demographic, shall we?
The average age of Robinhood’s 4 million users is 31 years old, and the median age of users is 29 — this generation, Millennials, has been one fueled by mobile applications, and Robinhood has built their company around young American Investors in this demographic.
The value systems that this generation embodies are substantially different than the generations preceding it. As Millennials enter the workforce in large numbers, studies have shown that social welfare, the environment, workplace diversity and equality are all substantial priorities. For many industries, these value systems have already started to change the face of how companies operate. As millennial money makes its way into the market, it seems only natural that the metrics by which we measure success may change as well.
In addition to this, Millennials have also shown that corporate responsibility is a priority in their purchasing habits. Clearly there is a correlation between this demographic’s value system and their interaction with money.
The future of Robinhood lies in large part in the adoption of investing education, interest and habits by a larger majority of Millennials, but also the booming Gen Z. In 2040 Millennials and Gen Z will make up the majority of the US’ workforce and subsequently Robinhood’s user base as well.
Let’s zoom out for a second, though. We’ve set up what Robinhood is, what its product looks like, and looked at what Robinhood’s user base currently looks like, and will look like in the future. 2040, however, is going to be a very different United States from today. But what will Robinhood look like in 2040? What will the context its placed in look like? The Corporate America of 2040 will look very different than it does today.
Photographs like these visualize the disdain of corporate America by members of Millennials and Gen Z. Corporatism run amuck is blamed for rampant climate change and its catastrophic ripple effects. Climate change and its effects are very real. No matter what your financial situation is. (Research has shown, however, that marginalized communities are more likely to face the effects in a substantially more detrimental way.)
The social, political and economic behaviors that have allowed the tragedies associated with rampant climate change are deemed highly unsustainable, and will change. As Millennials and Gen Z continue to have a greater influence over these facets of American life, we will see society and government shift to a system which penalizes these behaviors. We will also see social preferences change in the way we do business domestically.
In 2040 this is what government will look like. We will have moved towards a more progressive government, one which has more control over how business is conducted. This will be a result of Millennials and Gen Z demanding corporations be held accountable for the negative social and environmental effects they see manifesting in their America.
As an economy, however, the US will still not be self sustained, and measures will have to be taken towards increasing globalization and international trade.
This will be a difficult time for the country as an increasingly progressive government will butt heads with itself. There will be social pressure to increasingly move towards a more localized, environmentally and socially conscious corporate landscape, this won’t be possible as a non self-sustaining economy, and so America will need to find a delicate, sustainable balance between international trade, globalization, and localization.
How This Affects Robinhood
The tail end of Millennials, and Gen Z are on the cusp of entering the workforce en masse. These groups of people have a very different vision for America than the generations preceding them.
Corporate growth is no longer seen as a favorable priority. Environmental consciousness, social care, and sustainability are considered primary priorities. This is reflected in the actions of the elected Government.
Robinhood’s future strategy needs not to be one to mitigate the pressures imposed by the government by attempting to grow outside of the US in a world where increase globalization is paramount. Rather it is to embrace the changes and exemplify a company that reflects the beliefs and value system of its core user base.
As part of embracing and embodying the value system of its users, Robinhood will likely evolve into a company that shows a commitment to priorities such as environmental care. These will reflect not only in strategic, business and product design solutions, but also in the evolution of their brand. Robinhood’s iconic feather becomes a leaf. Retaining the core characteristics of Robinhood’s brand identity, while visually communicating their future.
Robinhood for Good.
Low volatility ETF’s are safe, secure, slow growing, but predictable and sustainable. This model echoes not only what is generally more environmentally responsible (giving the environment time to replenish), but is also more socially responsible. Giving everybody the equality of opportunity to enter the market, and not be taken advantage of by it. The latter facilitates an environment in which only a few prosper, often at the expense of the many.
In 2019 Robinhood will IPO and have a considerably higher cash flow to fuel the evolution and development of their brand and future. Robinhood will create an internal, non-partisan research division (likely powered by an internally developed AI) which works to research how environmentally conscious, socially responsible and investible the companies traded on its marketplace are based on the new values it has moved towards embodying.
Robinhood will help educate new entrants into its market with the independent research conducted by its platform. Very different from the legacy institutions of today (As well as Robinhood today) which do not make recommendations on investments. As the rules and values of the people and of the government changes, companies will be held to a higher, more accountable standard. Robinhood will be an institution for social and environmental good and sustainable financial and business practices.
Here’s what it might look like.
It is important to reiterate that this is not a UX case study, critique, or redesign. The screens below are not fully considered from a usability POV. They simply exist to help visualize what a future product may look like from a speculative perspective.
Robinhood’s new product features a cleaner more personalized view of what matters to customers. Investments are front and center. These are all ETF investments. They have been personalized and created for each investor based on their individual value systems. These investments are curated based on users’ profiles from sign up. Below, Robinhood’s independent research division populates the product with up-to-date news about how companies are performing from an environmental perspective. To the right, a simple visual indicator shows what companies nested within the users’ ETF’s are performing like.
Each ETF has a description created by Robinhood along with an indicator showing whether or not the ETF is a “Robinhood Preferred” fund. This is one of the subtle product UX cues Robinhood will use to evolve their product strategy to align with their new strategic business principles. Preferred funds are what Robinhood believes will best align with the users’ profiles and value systems.
Below, there is a breakdown of the companies contained within the fund. This example shows a fund called “Wonder Women”, a fund of women-led companies.
Robinhood will continue to offer all sorts of companies to buy and sell on its platform to maintain a core commitment to transparency and fairness, it will, however, choose to label some funds as “Not a Robinhood preferred fund” in contrast to its preferred funds. Robinhood’s independent research division will research these companies and label any companies as problematic as needed.
Robinhood is a company I have a lot of respect and admiration for. I chose Robinhood to explore a future scenario for as part of my class because I wanted to speculate and visualize what an uncertain future may look like for them. I believe that given the lean nature of how the company operates, as well as the headstrong and committed leaders at the helm of this organization, it will be able to remain a force to be reckoned with in a fast-changing future. The definition of success will evolve with the world, but given my research, I find no reason to believe Robinhood will not be successful in a number of futures.
On a personal level, I am believer in limited government and a free-market economy. Today’s landscape has shown people and companies go from strength to strength and from success to success. Our system has enabled a country where hard work and commitment is rewarded. I do, however, understand that their is resentment from the lack of accountability associated with the way some of the corporations who have embodied some characteristics of success, and I believe that this needs to change. We as a people, and as investors in these organizations need to redefine what our metrics of a successful organization are. These metrics will need to embody accountability, transparency and responsibility as the world evolves and changes.