Robinhood, the investment platform at the center of last month’s stock market frenzy, said on Monday it had added a live customer phone line and other customer support features. The news came just weeks after a detailed CBS News investigation into customer service practices that left users navigating high-risk transactions on their own.
In one case, a family claims that ineffective customer service may even have contributed to their son’s death.
Alex Kearns died last year at 20, by mistake believing he had to nearly $ 750,000 trading a sophisticated financial instrument called options on Robinhood. In a lawsuit first reported by CBS News, his family accused Robinhood of wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress and unfair business practices.
The platform on Monday announced a host of changes to its customer support systems, including extended live telephone support for customers dealing with account security. The company also added a feature for clients to trade options, the instrument Alex Kearns had traded before his death, to request to speak on the phone with a financial representative registered at Robinhood for assistance in certain games. of the negotiation process.
“We want to make sure we’re there for customers, especially in urgent situations,” the company said in a blog post. “Over the past few months, we’ve rolled out phone support for option issues through a new in-app contact feature.”
In the hours leading up to his death, according to the lawsuit, Kearns’ Robinhood account had a negative balance of over $ 700,000. Kearns emailed Robinhood’s customer service address three times asking for help figuring out what had happened and if he could still make up for the losses with another trade. In response, he received an automated response.
His family say he became increasingly panicked about his perceived debt and committed suicide hours later. More than a full day after sending the company three emails, Robinhood sent another automated message suggesting he owed no money at all.
His parents told CBS News that they believed their son would still be alive today if Robinhood had responded to his repeated requests for help on their customer service platform.
“He just wanted an answer,” said his mother, Dorothy Kearns. His father, Dan, added: “He just needed a little help.”
While Robinhood previously provided customers with a helpline, former Robinhood employees told CBS News earlier this month the phone line was riddled with problems: customer service agents unqualified to deliver financial advice, licensed brokers too busy to help, and customer calls that went unanswered. Sources familiar with the matter told CBS News that the company ultimately ended its customer phone line because it couldn’t keep up with the call volume.
In 2020, customers like Alex Kearns didn’t have a customer support phone number to call.
Representative Sean Casten, a Democrat from Illinois, asked Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev about the company’s customer support during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee last week. He asked Tenev to listen as he called the platform’s hotline, which plays a 12-second pre-recorded message asking callers to visit the Robinhood app or website, then hangs up.
“While I am pleased that Robinhood is making improvements to customer support, I remain concerned that the changes announced are insufficient and may distract from the real issues that persist,” Casten said in a statement to CBS News.
Casten’s office will continue to look at a number of issues surrounding Robinhood, including users who will not be able to use the helpline, as well as what they say is insufficient transparency on how the company is making money. money on individual transactions.
In Monday’s blog post, the company also said that it had more than tripled the size of its full-time customer support team in 2020 and that it more than expected to more than double the number of full-time registered representatives. at Robinhood throughout 2021.
Since Alex Kearns’ death, Robinhood has told CBS News he has “revised experience requirements” for clients looking for riskier types of options, but CBS News confirmed earlier this month to how easy it was to get approval for basic options trading on the app, just set your level of investing experience to “not much”.
Dan Kearns said the platform’s security checks were not strong enough. “How are those guardrails? How is that – how does that stop an 18-year-old from doing risky jobs that he doesn’t really understand?”
An attorney for the Kearns family said: “Although it is too late to help Alex, we were delighted to see Robinhood increase its investment in providing live customer support to options investors in the position that ‘Alex found himself last June. The changes to customer support are sufficient as we make the discovery in the Kearns family lawsuit. We remain disappointed that Robinhood has not done more to tighten its controls over approvals for options trading. “