Democrats Question Game-Like Trading Apps at House Hearing

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Democrats renewed their focus on the gamification of investment apps as they weighed potential reforms during a second hearing in the wake of wild swings in shares of GameStop Corp. and others.

“As the events in January cast a spotlight on gaps in regulation of our capital markets, the committee must assess what legislative steps may be necessary,” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters said Wednesday, adding that she plans a third hearing to question U.S. regulators.

Witnesses included market experts and investor advocates rather than the high-profile testimony at the first hearing from Robinhood Markets Chief Executive Officer Vlad Tenev and Citadel founder Ken Griffin, but the firms were still on stage as Democrats and Republicans sparred over their roles in the drama.

“Beyond merely developing a user interface to facilitate ease-of-use for retail investors, online brokers like Robinhood employ powerful behavioral science-based techniques to influence investor behavior,” said Vicki Bogan, an associate professor at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business. “These online brokers use prompts, push notifications and other nudges for the purpose of eliciting a specific behavior: increased trading by the investor.”

Democrats pressed for input on the potentially addictive nature of game-like features of investment apps such as Robinhood’s, while Republicans instead highlighted how such platforms educate young investors on the stock market. Democrats also focused on whether novice traders should have easy access to more advanced functions such as using leverage or trading derivatives.

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