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Robinhood, the trading app that took the United States by storm during the pandemic lockdowns, is having another go at cracking the UK market.

The company, a key beneficiary of the craze in so-called “meme” stocks which took hold in 2020 and 2021, first announced plans for a UK launch in 2020.

On that occasion, having opened a waiting list for would-be clients in 2019 that reportedly attracted 300,000 potential customers, it shelved plans in order to concentrate on its home US market following an explosion of interest there.

More recently, in August last year, it sought to buy Ziglu, a UK-based cryptocurrency trading app, for $170m only for the deal to fall through.

It will now be hoping that it is third time lucky.

A compelling offer in a competitive market

The offer for would-be customers is pretty compelling but, with the likes of Freetrade, eToro, Trading 212 and Revolut all now offering commission-free share trading, it needs to be.

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Robinhood is offering commission-free trading of more than 6,000 US-listed stocks and ADRs (American Depository Receipts) with no foreign exchange fees and customers will be able to trade around the clock and out of hours.

Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s co-founder and chief executive, points out that, during the recent turmoil at OpenAI, a lot of customers and market participants had been tweeting screenshots from Robinhood of the share price of Microsoft – a major investor in the AI business and which offered its ousted (and later reinstated) chief executive, Sam Altman, a job almost immediately.

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Vladimir Tenev said that, over time, the ability to trade UK and European stocks on the Robinhood would grow.

He told Sky News: “We are offering those US stocks 24 hours a day, five days a week through our 24 hour market, we became the first major broker in the US to offer round the clock trading of individual named stocks.

“That’s a capability that you won’t find elsewhere.”

He said that, over time, the ability to trade UK and European stocks on the platform would become available.

But perhaps the kicker is that the business will be offering customers an interest rate of 5% on any uninvested cash in their brokerage account.

That is something Mr Tenev clearly hopes will lure customers away not only from commission-free trading rivals – most of whom are relative upstarts in the industry – but also some sector’s established big guns such as Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell and Interactive Investor, which is owned by the fund manager Abrdn.

It is also worth noting that Robinhood only offers an interest rate of that magnitude to its premium customers in the US.

The big profit question

One big question here is how Robinhood will be able to offer a proposition like this to UK customers and remain profitable.

In the US, it can offer commission-free trading by accepting payments from market-makers – the market professionals who quote two-way prices at which they will either buy or sell a security – to execute the trades made by its customers.

But this practice, known as “payment for order flow”, is not allowed in the UK.

Mr Tenev’s response is that payment for order flow now only accounts for a small portion of Robinhood’s revenues in the US – perhaps because some US regulators have been pondering about the desirability of the practice.

He said: “If you look at Robinhood’s business, actually, in the past couple of quarters, we’ve diversified it tremendously.

“More than half of our revenue comes from net interest. And that’s through a number of offerings, we collect a small spread on the cash, even though we do offer 5% interest.

“We offer stock lending, which shares interest generated by stocks, customers are holding in their account with customers, but also generates revenue for the firm. So we’ve continued to diversify. And equity is payment for order flow, which you mentioned, is right around 5% of our revenue.

“And we’ve been growing our revenues. So what we aim to do is, again, offer the best economics to our customers and make it clear to customers that they’re getting an unbelievable value proposition and experience with Robinhood.

“But of course, the business is sustainable. And we might operate at thinner margins than the incumbents. But the business still makes money. We’ve demonstrated that and we’re continuing to diversify it over time.”

Robinhood logo

Will the UK be enthusiastic about stock trading?

Another big question is whether the UK will ever be as enthusiastic about stock trading as in the US.

Even there, transaction volumes have slipped in recent months as Americans have returned to the office, sporting events – a rival attraction for those interested in punting rather than investing – have resumed and the savings built up by households during the lockdowns have been run down.

If Robinhood can get Britons buying shares actively again, it will be thanked by Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, who recently announced plans for a possible offer of the government’s remaining shares in NatWest with the words “it’s time to get Sid investing again”, a reference to the successful “Tell Sid” advertising campaign in 1986 that persuaded more than 1.5 million people to invest in shares of British Gas when it was privatised by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Robinhood has been criticised in the US for encouraging the “gamification” of trading. The criticism reached a peak after a 20-year old Robinhood customer killed himself in June 2020 after running up losses of $750,000 on the options market.

Mr Tenev insists Robinhood has learned from the experience. The app now includes many more educational resources aimed at helping clients invest more knowledgably and to make more informed decisions.

Regulators will be watching closely, though, to ensure that investors are not being encouraged to take reckless risks.

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Elon Musk sues OpenAI and Sam Altman, saying company putting profit over the public good

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Elon Musk sues OpenAI and Sam Altman, saying company putting profit over the public good

Elon Musk, the multi-billionaire owner of Tesla and X, is suing artificial intelligence company OpenAI, accusing the firm of prioritising profit over developing AI for the public good.

Mr Musk is bringing the suit against OpenAI, which he co-founded, and its chief executive, Sam Altman, for breaching a contract by reneging on its pledge to develop AI carefully and make the tech widely available.

The company behind the ground-breaking generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, has “been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company, Microsoft”, a court filing said.

The court action is the latest in a series of challenges to Mr Altman who was ousted from his position at OpenAI by the company board and briefly went to work at Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest shareholder, before being returned to his post.

The AI giant was originally founded as a not-for-profit company but has grown to have commercial interests, which has caused tension between board members and founders.

By embracing a close relationship with Microsoft, OpenAI and its top executives have set that pact “aflame” and are “perverting” the company’s mission, Mr Musk alleges in the lawsuit.

“Under its new board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI [artificial general intelligence] to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity”, the filing said.

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A key part of OpenAI’s mission to benefit humanity, the court filing said, was to make the company software open source and share it, but this has not happened.

Instead, the company operates on a for-profit model.

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Mr Musk has his own AI company, called xAI and has said OpenAI is not focused enough on the potential harms of AI.

As well as alleging breach of contract, Mr Musk’s claim said OpenAI is violating fiduciary duty and is engaged in unfair business practices. A jury trial has been sought by Mr Musk.

OpenAI and Microsoft have been contacted for comment.

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Home Office figures show how vital immigration is to the economy

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Home Office figures show how vital immigration is to the economy

The Home Office immigration system statistics for 2023 tell a different story to the one that dominates the political discourse.

While government commentary and policy has focused on illegal migration via small boats, the largest driver of rising immigration is people coming to work, primarily in a health and care sector that would not function without them.

Some 616,000 work visas were issued in 2023, 337,240 to “primary applicants”, up 26% on 2022 and a staggering 250% rise on pre-pandemic levels, with a further 279,131 to their dependants, an increase of 81%.

Health and social care visas were the largest driver of the increase, the number almost doubling in a year to 146,477, with more than 100,000 of these granted to carers.

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This expansion is the consequence of a deliberate policy decision in 2021 to make up a post-COVID, post-Brexit shortfall in staff.

With preferential status removed from European Union candidates, east Asia and west and southern Africa are the primary source of care workers.

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More than 18,000 came from India, with 7,000 from Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. A further 18,000 came from Nigeria, 15,000 from Zimbabwe and 10,000 from Ghana.

Applications for skilled work visas in other sectors were broadly flat, perhaps reflecting a cooling labour market in a flatlining economy that has almost a million job vacancies and 2.5 million workers classified as long-term sick.

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Home Secretary James Cleverly has moved to cut numbers, banning care workers from bringing dependents, a change that may force recruiters to spread the net even wider to fill holes in British care homes.

The minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas is also rising to £38,700 a year, up more than 50% and now more than the average salary, but such is the acute challenge of the NHS, health and care employers are exempt from paying the new figure.

One area where the government can point to falling immigration is among students but that will be no cause for celebration in higher education, where overseas candidates underwrite the cost of the domestic population.

Student visa applications fell 5% to 616,000, reflecting a more competitive international market and a tightening of rules from this year, which will see only postgraduates able to bring family members with them.

There was also a small decrease in the number of temporary visas granted to season workers in agriculture, who now overwhelmingly come from central Asia, but that was offset by a rise in youth mobility visas granted to under-30s from 12 eligible countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

From health and care to agriculture and education, cutting immigration will come at a price.

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Sainsbury’s to cut 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting plan

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Sainsbury's to cut 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting plan

Sainsbury’s has revealed plans to cut around 1,500 roles as part of a previously announced shake-up of its operations.

Sky News revealed earlier this month how the company, which also owns Argos, had refused to rule out job losses under the strategy update for investors.

It included a greater focus on food within its supermarkets, claiming more space from general merchandise and clothing.

Sainsbury’s said it was also targeting greater use of automation under the plans, which aimed to save £1bn over three years to boost investment in the business.

The company said it hoped to redeploy many of the 1,500 people affected by the changes.

The jobs will go at its store support centre, contact centre operations, in its in-store bakeries and in its general merchandise fulfilment network.

Sainsbury’s said it had proposed to colleagues in its Widnes contact centre, who operate the Careline service, that they should transfer to an existing partner.

It said a more efficient way of providing its bakery service meant jobs would go in that part of the business.

Chief executive Simon Roberts said: ”Our Next Level Sainsbury’s strategy is about giving customers more of what they come to Sainsbury’s for – outstanding value, unbeatable quality food and great service.

“One of the ways we’re going to deliver on this promise is through our Save and Invest to Win programme.

“As we move into the next phase of our strategy, we are making some difficult, but necessary decisions.

“The proposals we’ve been talking to teams about today are important to ensure we’re better set up to focus on the things that create a real impact for our customers, delivering good food for all of us and building a platform for growth.

“I know today’s news is unsettling for affected colleagues and we will do everything we can to support them.”

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