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This article is dedicated to stock trading app development inspired by Robinhood’s mobile app. Launched in 2015, it pioneered zero-commission trading. The pandemic caused a dramatic increase in demand for online trading services and record growth of trading apps like Robinhood. In January 2020 alone, Robinhood was downloaded three million times. Around the same time in 2021, another six million joined the customer base, which totaled around 22.5 million by the end of 2021.

According to their S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company earned net income of $7.45 million on net revenue of $959 million in 2020. In the third quarter of 2021, their total net revenue was $365 million, up 35% from the earnings in Q3 of 2020.

 

User-friendly stock apps like Robinhood appeal to massive audiences because they facilitate investing for people with little to no economic background or experience and at minimum cost. People can experiment with trading without the risk of losing a fortune as long as they invest prudently.



Creators of a new stock trading app should definitely prioritize mobile devices. People can use a mobile application at any convenient time, even when on the move.

 

If you already have an online brokerage web application, a mobile version may help you attract younger audiences. It will also offer greater security provided by modern smartphones.

 

Moreover, by developing a stock trading mobile app, entrepreneurs access enhanced monetization possibilities, such as various ad formats and modular structures with paid add-ons or access to advanced functions.

 

The popularity of online trading is likely to reach greater heights in the times to come. If you consider creating your own app like Robinhood, you can find some tips in this article.



Here is the first tip: begin with a solid understanding of the stock trading app market and its major players, starting with Robinhood itself.

 

Robinhood’s Services and Advantages

Robinhood is a web and mobile investment platform. Its users can buy and sell over 5,000 stocks, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) listed on the US and international exchanges, options, American Depositary Receipts for 250+ global companies, and cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency trading includes Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin SV, Dogecoin, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, and Litecoin. 


Robinhood allows for something called fractional trading, i.e. buying a portion of a share for as little as $1, even if that share’s full price is hundreds of dollars. This pairs perfectly with recurring investments. A user sets a schedule (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) and a dollar amount, and Robinhood will automatically invest it as scheduled in the stocks or ETFs of their choice.


Robinhood Gold, the app’s premium version, enables more accomplished and adventuresome investors to trade on margin, i.e. money borrowed from the broker, in this case, from Robinhood.


A cash management account comes with a debit card and the ability to withdraw cash for free from 75,000+ ATMs. Customers can earn modest interest (0.30%) on their uninvested cash.


Access to deposited cash is fast and easy. Instant verification with several banks spares users the trouble of reporting micro-deposits to an account to verify the information. The proceeds from selling stocks and bank transfers below $1,000 are available for investing instantly.


Users create their investment portfolio and trade stocks using real-time market data relating to specific stocks and ‘the hottest’ investment opportunities, analyst ratings, lists of top movers, earnings calendars, and customizable notifications about their stock positions, upcoming dividends, and other events.


A newsfeed is provided by Wall Street Journal Markets, Barron’s, and Reuters with videos from CNBC Business, Cheddar, and Reuters. Investors can also view the 100 most popular stocks on the platform and sort them, e.g., what’s rising and what’s falling over a given period.


Robinhood’s stocks trading experience is streamlined and simple. The deliberately simplistic interface basically works around two screens: the dashboard and the detailed stock screen.

On the first screen a user sees after login, a big line chart shows how their portfolio is performing. It is refreshed every five seconds. A tab bar at the bottom of the screen offers quick access to portfolio values, Watchlist, transaction history, and account statements.


There is a straightforward trade ticket on every quote screen for the tradeable stocks and ETFs.

 

A member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), Robinhood has integrated a well-established security system. 

 

Users log in with biometric (face or fingerprint) recognition or a custom pin. The app encourages users to enable two-factor authentication. If it’s not enabled, login from an unrecognized device is verified with a six-digit code sent via text message or email. The security system uses the industry’s default algorithm bcrypt to hash the account passwords and encrypts all confidential personal information

 

Entrepreneurs interested in Robinhood-like app development need to know the app’s shortcomings as well. The elimination of any of them can become a competitive advantage.

 

Possible Areas of Improvement for Trading Apps Like Robinhood

For instance, the creators of a new stock trading app may benefit from addressing any of the following issues:

 

  • Robinhood doesn’t offer retirement accounts and managed portfolios.

 

  • Some investors criticize Robinhood’s options trading for its poorly designed interface and lack of tools for assessing potential profitability. The process of placing options trades may seem illogical. 

 

  • The research and resources provided may also seem insufficient to some users, as does customer support that is primarily provided via email.

 

  • Over the years, the app has also been the subject of complaints and even lawsuits due to technical problems. For example, throughout 2020 and into 2021, Robinhood experienced several extensive outages and other issues that disrupted the users’ activities or even rendered the platform inaccessible.

 

Still, judging by the impressive financial numbers, the app’s advantages fully make up for all its shortcomings.

The Robinhood business model can be one of the secrets to its success. Entrepreneurs that want to build a Robinhood-like app may benefit from studying its nuances.


Robinhood Revenue Model and Its Alternatives

The app is free to download. The account minimum for brokerage and Gold accounts is $0. Robinhood charges neither trading fees and commissions for selling or buying assets nor annual, monthly, inactivity, or ACH transfer fees.


Why is Robinhood free? There are several answers to this question. From the onset, the absence of commissions for transactions and requirements for minimum investment set it apart from the crowd of competitors. Before Robinhood, people who wanted to invest in stocks would be charged $5-10 per trade and had to spend at least $500 to open an account.


Robinhood founders wanted to ‘unlock the micro-investor market’ and ‘democratize’ the world of finance, and this unique value proposition helped attract the first adopters quickly. In 2014, 340,000 had signed up to the app’s waitlist, and the number had reportedly doubled by the time it was formally launched.


Although Robinhood is no longer the only free brokerage app in town, it remains competitive and continues to grow, proving the approach is effective.


Secondly, Robinhood isn’t absolutely free. Users may have to pay for a variety of services.

Paid premium version

Robinhood Gold, the app’s paid opt-in service, is supposedly the company’s second major source of revenue. The flat monthly fee is $5.

 

In return, Gold members enjoy extended trading hours, access to in-depth research from Morningstar on 1,700+ stocks and Level 2 market data powered by NASDAQ TotalView, and extra buying power. Users can try the Gold service out for 30 days free of charge.

 

Freemium is the go-to business model for stock apps like Robinhood. As the traders’ experience and enthusiasm grow, they will likely deem it a reasonable price for advanced features and additional capabilities, e.g., VIP 24/7 customer support.

 

Margin lending 

A Robinhood Gold subscription of $5/month includes $1,000 of margin. Margin usage over $1,000 is charged 5% interest.


Miscellaneous fees

Other fees unrelated to trading include:

 

  • Robinhood charges a $75 fee when a user transfers their investments to another broker. 
  • The prices for sending or receiving a wire are $25 for domestic and $50 for international wires.
  • Users are also charged $35 to send a domestic check overnight.
  • The live broker fee is $10 per transaction.

 

Additionally, according to the FINRA requirement, the minimum portfolio balance for opening a margin account is $2,000.

 

The customers are aware of these fees and commissions, but the Robinhood revenue model includes other methods that they cannot see:


Payments for order flow

Robinhood reportedly makes half of its money through a system called payments for order flow (PFOF), i.e. for directing its customers’ equity and options orders to market makers. Essentially, Robinhood sends each trade to a larger entity that can leverage thousands of orders at once for a slight advantage. That entity then compensates Robinhood for the orders. The more often users buy and sell, the more money Robinhood makes.


Robinhood’s PFOF revenue made $682 million in 2020, a 514% increase compared with 2019. 


Interest earned on users’ cash balances

Robinhood users who sign up for its cash management program with a Mastercard debit card can earn 0.30% APY on their idle cash swept to its partner banks network. Robinhood accepts fees from those banks and keeps a small portion of the interchange fees levied on transactions made with those debit cards.

Another answer to the question is Robinhood’s modus operandi that reduces the need for commissions. The company itself is relatively small: there are no big offices, staff, or large-scale public relations campaigns. The Clearing by Robinhood service allows them to operate on their own clearing system, which reduces some of the service’s account fees.


You may copy the Robinhood business model precisely, adjust it to your needs, e.g., opt for distributed workforce models, or employ different monetization methods. For instance:

 

  • Advertisements present the most popular monetization method for free mobile-first platforms. Partnerships with ad networks are potentially highly profitable, but if you decide to leverage this method, make sure to integrate ads into your app experience naturally, in some native formats.

 

  • For those users who are well-versed in the stock market dynamics, you can offer deals with high-risk exposure and charge a commission on such deals once the transaction amount exceeds a certain threshold.

 

  • There is even a possibility of charging commissions for all trades performed using your app. However, in that case, competition with commission-free stock trading apps may be problematic. This decision may narrow your target audience or scare them away altogether.

 

Robinhood’s users build and manage their investment portfolios themselves, but you can offer assistance as part of your service. 

 

Robo-advisors 

Robo-advisors are also called automated investing services: they use computer algorithms, artificial intelligence, and advanced software to build and manage their clients’ portfolios with little to no human intervention.

 

First, a user typically fills out a digital questionnaire. The robo-advisor uses the collected information to assess their risk tolerance, goals, and investing preferences. Then, its algorithm would suggest the most suitable portfolio out of several available options, ranging from conservative to aggressive, which the user can accept or decline. 

 

Automated investing services often imply easy account setup and automatic rebalancing, such as the micro-investment app Raiz offers. Its algorithm automatically adjusts the proportions of ETFs on a user’s portfolio to keep it within the original allocation. Rebalancing occurs whenever users deposit or withdraw funds, the percentage holding of an ETF fluctuates 5% above or below its target range, or users switch to another investment portfolio.



Automated investing services charge an annual or monthly management fee. The affordability and hands-off convenience of these services primarily appeal to beginners. Betterment, E*TRADE Core, Fidelity Go, SigFig, and SoFi are some of the best robo-advisors out there. 

 

Human advisors

Human advisors can complement computer algorithms. For instance, Facet Wealth, Personal Capital, Round, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium, and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services employ professionals to manage portfolios and interact with investors, albeit virtually.

 

These apps also process data from the initial survey. Then, the available services may range from answers to basic investment and financial planning questions to getting a personal, dedicated financial advisor or team for comprehensive financial planning, portfolio management, daily investments monitoring, consultations via phone and video calls, and more. 

 

These apps charge monthly and annual management fees or a percentage of assets a customer invests using the app. As the level of human involvement in the service increases, so do an app’s cost and minimum investment requirements. This implies higher business expenses and limited target audiences as compared with fully automated investing services.

 

Whatever you choose, a modular structure that combines features into functional blocks might be beneficial. It facilitates the creation of various monetization plans based on the availability of features or app versions with limited or more focused functionality. This approach will enable you to adjust the app to the demands of the market and different groups of users.

 

Probably, you will not cover all the user needs and provide every possible functionality in an MVP or the first version of your app. However, it’s normal to build an MVP and then add features as the product gains traction.

Thus, it is crucial to start stock market app development focusing on the most demanded, useful, and potentially profitable features.

 

Core Functionalities of Stock Trading Apps Like Robinhood

Stock apps like Robinhood share a distinct set of features that primarily revolve around trading stocks, searching, and tracking the stocks owned by the user.


Here are the essential features that can be implemented as modules of your future stock trading app. (The order of the features does not reflect their relative importance or the app’s user flow.)


1. Check-in process

The authorization process has to be easy while promoting safety. Offer users multiple check-in options, such as pin code, biometrics recognition, etc. 

 

Derive inspiration from Robinhood’s quick and smooth sign-up and account funding process. A few questions gather a user’s personal information, contact details, Social Security number, and means of funding their account. Approved customers are notified within an hour, after which they can initiate bank transfers.

 

2. User profile

A user account functional block should include profile data, task management functionality, and setting up the notifications, frequency in which the account should be debited, etc. It may be partially integrated with the user’s Apple or Google account, e.g., for synchronizing data with Google Calendar.


3. Dashboard 

All investing apps have an account overview for the users to track their portfolios. Robinhood’s dashboard displays in one place all information an investor should know: order status, balance, charts, holdings, Watchlist, etc. When you create an app like Robinhood, design a way to present crucial information in a comprehensible manner, without causing information overload.

 

4. Portfolio

Enable users to build an investment portfolio made of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, cash, and other financial assets. A convenient filter and sort functionality are essential. Besides trading assets individually, users may rely on a computer algorithm to invest for them automatically.


5. Real-time market data

Investors need the latest financial market news and insights, i.e. falls and rises in their portfolio and which stocks are trending, in one place. Robinhood provides such market data in real-time.

 

A tap on an asset’s ‘Market price’ reveals its last sale, the best bid, including the highest price offered, the number of shares at that price, the exchange that quote comes from, and the best ask price on the market.

 

The various figures and analytics should be well-structured and organized so that even new traders can grasp the technicalities of the markets. Relevant financial data can be presented through line, candlestick, and pie charts, etc. Filters and search and sorting capabilities can enhance the experience.

 

6. Watchlist

This Robinhood feature makes it convenient for users to track the performance of stocks they are interested in and then buy or sell those stocks. During the search, reveal animation and autocomplete help users find more companies to add to their Watchlist. Enable users to quickly add the stocks to the Watchlist and then unfollow them as easily as needed.

 

7. Stock trading functionality

A trading module with buy and sell functions is the core of applications like Robinhood. It’s vital to make the entire process of holding, buying, and selling as straightforward and hassle-free as possible. It can be combined with checking bids and deposits, monitoring transactions, and receiving payments in several forms.

 

Users need the option to search for active stocks’ present rates in the market. In Robinhood, an order ticket pops open whenever users are looking at a particular stock, option, or crypto-coin.

 

8. Notifications

It’s helpful to inform users of how their portfolios are moving, update them on a hot investment opportunity, or remind them about important events. Moreover, this feature helps the app owner keep in touch with users and urges them to open it again and again.

 

The app can send updates to a user when a preset condition is met, e.g., a price reaches a set threshold. Users can receive the information not only via push notifications but also via SMS or emails. Enable users to choose the events worthy of notifications and to time them conveniently so they don’t become a nuisance.

 

9. Fund transfer functionality and deposits

Users need to transfer funds from their bank accounts to the investing app to start operations and then monetize their revenues securely and effortlessly. They need the option to go for either a one-time transfer or periodic transfer.

 

Stock trading app designers and developers should give special attention to ensuring convenient and secure transfers of the customers’ money to and from their trading accounts in several ways. Ideally, the app should support bank transfers and worldwide payment systems, such as Mastercard or Visa, PayPal, Amazon Payments, or Dwolla, as well as cash withdrawals. The integration with Google Pay and Apple Pay is essential.

 

Investors should be able to see the status of their deposits with minimal effort. Enable the users to monitor their flow of funds in real-time. 

 

10. Newsfeed

A news module is one of the most crucial features for apps that target new investors and amateurs, but knowledgeable investors will appreciate it as well. This newsfeed will provide a steady stream of information on relevant topics and events in the industry, e.g., the latest M&As, IPO details, external factors that influence market prices, etc.

 

Integration with online newspapers and other media channels and possibly cooperation with third-party analysts will be required.

 

These features should make up the core of your brokerage app. If you want to attract wealthier and savvier traders and offer premium packages, you can integrate detailed schemes, trading tools, and transactions, extend the set of order types, offer a tax protection plan, increased security measures, or other advanced options for extra fees.

 

Alternatively, you may plan features that will appeal to specific groups (e.g., finance novices, youth, or lower-income populations) and set you apart from the competition. This can be an optimized monetization model, more advantageous terms for traders, and so forth.



UX/UI Tips and Tricks for Stock Trading App Development

Stock trading app designers have a lot to learn from Robinhood’s team. Their attention to detail and smart and tasteful visual design helped Robinhood win the Apple Design Award in 2015 and the Google Play Award for Best Use of Material Design in 2016.


We can distinguish several principles that can be applied to virtually any stock trading app development.


Prioritize simplicity and reliability.

Stock trading is tough all by itself, and users, especially busy investors, cannot waste their precious time trying to understand a specialized app’s rigging. Its interface should make complicated things easier for users instead of overwhelming them with various types of text, images, statistics, numbers, etc. Moreover, the field of online trading is highly competitive. If users face any difficulty, they will likely leave the app immediately.


A stock trading app interface has to be as easy to use as possible while protecting the customers against accidental unwanted actions. It’s essential to know whether people will run the app on smartphones or tablets, what platforms it will cover, and with what devices it will be compatible. All of this may directly impact the interface, functionality, and content of your app. 


Robinhood’s design was targeted at novices from the very beginning; it’s tailored to mobile devices, its logic is simple, and the graphics clear. The present mobile app has an intuitive UI, is easy to navigate and use, and looks beautiful on every device. The consistent look-and-feel of the mobile apps and website makes it easy for customers to invest through either interface. 


During onboarding, the app guided users through a series of animated transitions. Each prompt’s card featured an illustration set against a green background, an optimistic play on the color of money. Motion is employed to orient users through the app’s functionalities.


Card patterns have been beneficial for organizing and grouping information, such as share prices, news, and notifications. They deliver pieces of essential information upfront with an opportunity to dive deeper if needed. For example, when a card is pressed, it animates and fills the screen space.

 

Bold colors and typography create a visual hierarchy that focuses the users’ attention and improves clarity. Robinhood conveys critical information using just four colors: white, black, green, and red. Swapping colors update users on important events and changes in stocks and personal portfolios.

It takes one look at the background color to tell whether the markets are open: it shifts from white to black after trading hours. Even the dark background reminds users that they still can buy and sell cryptocurrency and perform some non-market-dependent functions.

 

Swipe gestures facilitate quick navigation and take core actions like buying or selling stocks, instead of typical taps on the screen that may happen accidentally.

 

Additionally, Robinhood makes use of many micro-interaction elements that are not common in information-rich applications. For example, micro-interactions help access indexes’ details. 

 

Still, it’s important to cater to different kinds of users. For instance, Robinhood’s line charts that are reserved for close prices provide a simplified picture of trading, whereas each candlestick chart reveals to a savvier trader a security’s high, low, open, and closing prices for a given period.

 

The design should further your business goals.

The basic premise of developing a stock trading mobile app is to encourage more and more people to invest as much money as possible. It may seem that Robinhood’s penchant for excess, fun, and immediate gratification entices new traders to impulse-buy.

 

Keeping users in the loop on stock prices fluctuations is common for stock apps like Robinhood. However, it adds special effects to the experience. If your portfolio is up, all layout elements are green. If it is down, even by one cent, all screen elements turn alarmingly red. 

 

The user not only evaluates the health and activity of the stock market at a glance – they feel the urge to act promptly.

 

When scrolling down the home screen, Robinhood’s algorithm displays cards with news related to company stock prices. They help further engage the user, possibly already upset by their ‘ill-performing’ assets, by suggesting a possible ‘cure.’

 

Then, the user can view their stocks. Robinhood presents each stock with its full share price, again, in green or red. However, the actual amount of the user’s gain or loss on that investment is revealed only when they tap into a stock.

 

Robinhood’s underlying intention to get more users to trade frequently does not manifest itself in a readily available and prominent ‘Trade’ button. Instead, users have to tap on the magnifying glass button and are taken to the Ideas screen. It contains popular lists, top movers, and more news to scroll. Understanding its core audience – less-experienced traders – Robinhood apparently feeds them ideas to drive their buying behavior and simulates investment ‘peer pressure’  while preventing beginners or ill-informed traders from rushing into wrong decisions.

 

The endless newsfeed also helps drive engagement, a key performance indicator for any mobile app.

 

Make it fun. 

Robinhood masterfully leverages gamification to reinforce certain user behaviors. For instance, they celebrate the purchase of even a tiny fraction of a stock. A virtual confetti shower marks each of the first three purchases.

 

The idea of gifts, gains, and good luck is prominent in the app’s UI. Users receive free stocks for the registration and for getting others to sign up. In the upper right-hand corner of the home screen, there is a ‘Free stock’ button complete with a wrapped present icon. Green when the user’s stocks are up and red otherwise, it acts as a persistent invitation to play a virtual lottery.

 

When a user receives a free stock, the app displays three scratch-off tickets. To choose one, the user scratches their finger across the physical screen to see what they have won.



The winnings of an app owner may directly depend on how much they invested in the MVP or the first full-featured version of their mobile brokerage application. Here, we finally reach the most likely burning question readers may have.

 

How Much Can Stock Trading App Development Cost?

It is not easy to calculate the exact cost of building a mobile app like Robinhood. The amounts can vary as per your needs and requirements, in the first place. Some of the factors that impact the final cost include:

 

  • The number of selected features
  • The complexity of the features and functionalities
  • The design requirements
  • Size of the application
  • The choice of the platform(s), i.e., Android, iOS, both, and desktop
  • The choice of development technologies (languages, APIs, frameworks, protocols, data formats, etc.)
  • Market deadlines
  • Team size
  • Scope of testing
  • Whether an in-house team, freelancers, or an outsourcing company builds the app


The frontend and backend make up the bulk of a mobile trading app development cost. Usually, it is calculated by multiplying the hours required for the app development by the corresponding specialists’ hourly rates.


To estimate the possible budget, you need, at least, to provide the development team with a list of required features.

 

The team itself may include at least the following roles: 

 

  1. Project manager
  2. Designer
  3. iOS and/or Android app developers
  4. Backend developer
  5. Frontend developer (if you plan a web app)
  6. QA expert
  7. DevOps



The more roles you require, and the more people you hire for each role, the higher your stock trading app development cost.


Ideally, stock trading apps should be operational on two platforms – mobile and desktop. The cost of app development also increases if you go for multiple operating systems simultaneously.

 

When it comes to the backend of stock trading apps like Robinhood, there are two approaches to choose from –  Monolithic and Microservice. While Monolith is more cost-effective, Microservice backend promotes an application’s high scalability.

 

The testing of apps that handle people’s money in real-time comes with additional complexity and attached costs. The QA staff should cover the app’s work when the market is open, ensuring all the APIs are working correctly and the synchronization is flawless. 

 

Keep in mind that IT professionals in the USA or Western Europe charge more than their competitors from Eastern Europe or Asia. The specialists’ rates also vary depending on their skills and experience.

This being said, it’s still possible to assume that the development of an MVP for iOS and Android with the ten core features listed above will not cost less than $100K.


Are you interested in stock market app development? Do you have doubts about the feasibility or market potential of your idea? Do you need assistance with any aspect of its development? Do you have questions as to brokerage app functionality, design, technical solutions, or possible budget? In every case, please feel free to contact Onix. Our team of experts is always there to help you!