Public Apps Review 2021 | The bank rate
Public is a trading app that really tries to run an investor-aligned business that fulfills its motto of being “a safer place for investors”. With plenty of easy-to-digest educational content, with no commissions or fractional shares, it is highly geared towards first-time investors. But Public does a lot more than other apps aimed at this demographic, including a social feed that connects investors to discuss their trades and “town hall” meetings with business leaders. Additionally, Public has abandoned the “pay for order flow” business model that puts many other brokers in conflict with their customers.
While Public is great for learning to invest, those focused on teaching young children to invest may want to take a look at Stockpile. Others interested in investing beyond stocks and ETFs can check out trading apps like Robinhood or traditional brokers like Fidelity, also known for its educational offerings.
- Beginner investors
- Buy-and-hold investors
The public at a glance
|The minimum balance:||$ 0|
|Negotiable securities:||Stocks, ETFs|
|Cost per transaction:||$ 0|
|Customer service:||Email, chat Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET|
|Account fees:||$ 75|
|Mobile app:||The public mobile app is available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store|
|Promotion:||$ 5 in stock when you fund your account|
Benefits: Where Public Stands Out
Low trading minimum and no commission
The public makes it incredibly easy to buy in the market. You will only need $ 1 to enter the game. And you will have access to thousands of stocks and funds, so you will likely find the stock you want to buy. The public can literally no longer lower the bar of ownership.
As part of its value proposition, Public does not charge any commission. Commission-free trading isn’t quite the hook it was a few years ago when Robinhood started pulling this little trick. Still, it’s good to see that Public follows the industry standard commission structure.
Public allows fractional shares on their platform, and that’s a great feature for newbies. With stock fractions, you can buy a slice of even the most expensive stocks or ETFs. And with the minimum trade-in of just $ 1, you can own a piece – no matter how small – of anything. This feature allows every dollar of your money to work for you, regardless of the share price.
But not only does Public support the purchase of partial shares, it also allows you to reinvest in them. So when you receive a dividend, you can configure the app to reinvest it in the stock that paid it.
Both features are good for beginners, and few brokers offer both. In fact, Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Robinhood are the only major online brokers to offer both features.
No payment for order flow
The public stopped accepting payment for the order flow in early 2021, a common practice in the industry, especially among those leading the “commission-free” movement like Robinhood. Paying for order flow encourages brokers to direct stock transactions to certain exchanges, which can hurt individual investors with higher overhead costs. This is because clients may end up paying for their “free” transactions with inflated costs for stock purchases or lower prices for stock sales.
By making the change, Public removes a major conflict from its business. The structure could make brokers encourage clients to trade even when it is not in their best interests to do so, meaning the broker would make money if the client did something unproductive.
Instead, Public has shifted to a model that encourages tip-for-service (capped at 2% of business value), lending stock to investors, and paying interest on uninvested balances. These latter two practices are common methods of generating income in the industry and do not suffer from the conflict of interest that payment for orders causes.
One of the most unusual – and interesting – features of Public is the Social Feed which allows you to follow other investors, browse featured profiles, and chat with them on the platform. So it’s not just stocks that you can track, but people as well. You can see why another investor likes a certain security and when they might want to buy or sell it.
You can also search for thematically related stocks (“Home and Garden” or “Women in Charge”, for example) to pull up ideas and then see what other investors are thinking. And of course, you can look for the big engines of the day and other similar types of shortlisted stocks.
Another cool feature is what Public calls “town halls,” which are kind of a question-and-answer session with CEOs of listed companies, maybe even one of your holdings. You submit written questions and the leaders answer them in a live forum.
In-depth education and news
Audience does a good job providing a plethora of educational content for newbie investors, including tons of “101” type information on the basics of investing. Thus, you will be able to read clear articles that explain the basics (“What is a short squeeze?” Or “What causes market volatility?”).
But Public also includes plenty of articles on hot topics, such as recent IPOs, including extensive coverage of these newly public companies (“Amazon stock split in 2021? What you need to know” and “Stripe IPO : What you need to know ”among many others).
You’ll also get a full news feed of all the stocks you want to follow, along with vital financial information, upcoming earnings reports, and message boards for every stock.
Smooth account opening process
You will quickly go through the process of opening an account within minutes of answering the standard glove of questions, and then you will be ready to start investing. You won’t spend hours waiting to see if you’ve been approved.
Plus, you can fund your account with a debit card and have the money instantly. So you can really start trading in a matter of minutes if you are able to fund your account that way.
Cons: where the audience could improve
Limited investment selection
If you want to invest in stocks and ETFs, like many investors, you will find what you are looking for here. This selection will suffice for many and perhaps most. These securities have enough risk and potential return – you can make good profits without other types of investments.
But for investors looking for something else – even relatively common choices like bonds, options, or mutual funds – will need to open an account elsewhere. This is the nature of an app that purports to educate newbies on how to invest.
No margin loans
Public announces that “We do not sell you margin loans.” A margin loan allows investors to borrow money to buy stocks, so they can buy more than they have the money for today. A margin loan amplifies your returns up and down.
Overall, the fact that Public doesn’t offer this service is probably a good thing for newbies. It can be easy to gain the upper hand when you are just starting out and have a lot to learn. And margin loans usually only increase the learning curve while increasing your risk.
While Public touts its no-margin policy as if it is a good thing, it will absolutely put off many investors who, rightly or wrongly, believe they can safely handle the temptation of a loan. That said, newbies shouldn’t see this as a deterrent and may well see the public’s demonstrated commitment to helping them learn to invest safely.
Limited account types
You will have already created your account before you realize that you haven’t even been asked for the type of account. This is because Public only offers the simplest option here: an individual taxable account. It’s probably not a snap for the kind of people the audience is looking to attract, but many others won’t find it to their liking and could possibly go elsewhere.
At the end of the line
With an emphasis on education in an easy-to-use app, Public offers a solid package for newbies to the investing game:
- The educational and social elements will help new investors to invest and give them a reason to come back to the app even if they are not trading.
- Newbie investors should appreciate no account minimums, fractional shares and more.
- However, investors who need something beyond basic account types or security types won’t find what they’re looking for here.
Investors looking for brokers with strong education offerings should check out Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Merrill Edge. Those who need more types of accounts can choose almost any other broker, although some of the bigger players such as E-Trade offer a wider selection.
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