Richard Dobatse, a Navy medic in San Diego, dabbled infrequently in stock trading. But his behavior changed in 2017 when he signed up for Robinhood, a trading app that made buying and selling stocks simple and seemingly free.
Mr. Dobatse, now 32, said he had been charmed by Robinhood’s one-click trading, easy access to complex investment products, and features like falling confetti and emoji-filled phone notifications that made it feel like a game. After funding his account with $15,000 in credit card advances, he began spending more time on the app.
As he repeatedly lost money, Mr. Dobatse took out two $30,000 home equity loans so he could buy and sell more speculative stocks and options, hoping to pay off his debts. His account value shot above $1 million this year — but almost all of that recently disappeared. This week, his balance was $6,956.
“When he is doing his trading, he won’t want to eat,” said his wife, Tashika Dobatse, with whom he has three children. “He would have nightmares.”
Millions of young Americans have begun investing in recent years through Robinhood, which was founded in 2013 with a sales pitch of no trading fees or account minimums. The ease of trading has turned it into a cultural phenomenon and a Silicon Valley darling, with the start-up climbing to an $8.3 billion valuation. It has been one of the tech industry’s biggest growth stories in the recent market turmoil.