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Robinhood comes clean with its millennial traders: ‘We certainly weren’t trying to help hedge funds’

February 2, 2021, 12:26 PM UTC

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Since its 2013 inception, Robinhood has enticed millennials and Gen Zers through a combination of free shares, $0 commission trades, and a sleek app. The formula was shaking up Wall Street: By 2019, major brokerages such as Charles Schwab, E-Trade, and TD Ameritrade followed Robinhood’s lead and offered zero-commission trades of their own. That success had Robinhood reportedly eyeing an IPO in 2021.

But that honeymoon ended last week, as the company learned the meaning behind an infamous Warren Buffett quote: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Amid a hyperbolic surge in GameStop’s shares (ticker: GME), soaring from $39.12 on Jan. 20 to $347.51 on Jan. 27, Robinhood made the abrupt decision on Jan. 28 to limit purchases—but not sales—of GME and other high soaring stocks. That day GME would plunge to $193.60 by close. Then came the backlash. A slew of Robinhood traders took to social media to accuse the platform of helping hedge funds who had shorted GME (and were set to lose big-time if shares continued to rise).

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy and Tesla CEO Elon Musk piled on. “Ironically Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor, even though they do the exact opposite. I was stunned. I think it’s criminal. I think there has to be an investigation. I think people have to go to jail,” Portnoy told Fox News viewers on Thursday. Robinhood is already facing dozens of lawsuits from its customers, and some Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling for an investigations on the grounds of market manipulation.

On Monday, Robinhood emailed its customers to explain the situation. The company said the rush into stocks like GME and AMC caused its clearinghouse deposit requirements—which are in place to make sure trades settle successfully—to rise 10-fold. To ensure that the brokerage could meet those deposit requirements, the company said, it had to limit purchases of the shares.

Simply put: The rush into those stocks stretched the company’s balance sheet.

“We had to take steps to limit buying in those volatile stocks to ensure we could comfortably meet our deposit obligations. We didn’t want to stop people from buying stocks and we certainly weren’t trying to help hedge funds,” Robinhood wrote in the Monday email.

That money crunch was so serious that since Jan. 29 Robinhood has raised $3.4 billion in funding from investors and is in talks to secure $1 billion in debt, according to Reuters. And as of Tuesday, some trading restrictions on shares like GME remain in place.

Prior to the mess last week, speculation on Wall Street was rife that the company could be worth $20 billion at IPO.

The $20 billion question today remains: Will traders forgive Robinhood?

To get to the bottom of this question, Fortune is currently fielding a national investor survey and will publish the results this month in Fortune Analytics—our data newsletter for premium subscribers.