Review of: Public Investment App | Reviewed by: | Last modified: Jun. 17, 2021

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Public has made buying, selling, and owning stocks, something that anyone can do and understand. It used to be that you needed to either be a professional in finance to understand the intricacies of the stock market, or you had to have a boatload of money to invest.

With a tool like Public, anyone can own a piece of a company they believe in for any amount of money. Those barriers are tumbling down, as anybody who has a little extra cash can make profitable investments.  And for people who care, you can invest in the companies that actually matter to you most.

What is Public?

Public

Public is the new kid on the ever-growing commission-free brokerage block. But many of you may be familiar with its formerly-used title, Matador.

That’s right, the pioneer of investing products, Matador, was literally the first man on the scene. So, I was excited to see how an investment giant with years of experience would roll out its new and improved version.

That’s when I decided to test drive Public for myself.

Here’s what I found out.

How does Public work?

Public is a free investing app, so everything starts with the download:

Download the app – it’s available for iOS and Android devices

Public

Public currently has both iOS and Android apps, and there are constantly releasing new and improved versions. In my mind, that’s definitely good news for users. All you have to get started is enter your cell phone number to get a link, and then download the app to get things rolling.

Create your investor profile

Once you download the app, the next thing to do is answer a few basic questions to submit your application. This step involves filling out some information about yourself, like your age (18+ only), social security number, and bank information.

Choose your stocks – and get started with real-time trading

Now, for the fun stuff!

Public has more than 5,000 stocks to choose from. They’re organized into different categories called themes so you can discover new companies in terms that reflect how you actually experience the world. More on that below.

You can pick a category, browse through the list, and select a company that looks interesting. Public has a lot of information on each company, including trends, comments, and company history. One interesting bit of information they include is a list of sub-brands that a parent company might own. So, you can learn a lot before you invest.

Before you can start trading, though, you’ll need to connect a bank account or debit card for transferring funds. To set this up, tap on the Account icon in the bottom-right corner of your screen, choose Banking and Payment Methods, then input either a bank account or debit card number.

The coolest thing about this app is how fast it works. You can start investing immediately after you open an account with whatever balance you’ve deposited. So, the minute the transfer clears, you’re ready to start trading in real-time. That means that as long as the market is open, whatever you decide to buy and trade is executed immediately.

As a bonus, if a current user refers you to the app, you’ll start with a free slice of stock valued at up top $50. And your friend will get a free slice of stock, too.

Start tracking your investments

After you’ve chosen and invested in your stocks, it’s time to sit back and let the market do its thing. Obviously, with smaller slices of stocks, you aren’t going to be making substantial amounts of money overnight. But hey, every dollar counts, right?

As a default, Public automatically deposits dividends in your account. If you want to opt into the service so that Public automatically reinvests your dividends, you can send a message to support, and they’ll hook you up. I recommend this since it means that your money can build on itself automatically over time, should your investments pan out in your favor.

You can also earn money on the uninvested money in your account, which I’ll explain in more detail shortly.

Refer your friends

One of my favorite things about Public is the generous referral program. Public rewards you when you refer your friends via the Public referral link. And the reward? A slice of stock once your friend opens an account.

Pretty cool in my book!

Public’s Town Hall

If you want a chance to engage directly with executives of the companies you are investing in – specifically with Public’s founders and CEOs – Public has started Town Hall where you have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers live through written Q&As in the app. Note that these town halls are not intended to be a way to get investment advice.

How much does Public cost?

Public is commission-free

Public is a totally free tool to use, which is great if you’re just starting out in investments or if you only have a little bit of cash to spare.

But here’s what’s also so great: Public charges zero commission to invest in any stock so you can also process fund transfers in and out of your account for free.

Founder, Jannick Malling, said pretty succinctly,

“Investing $10 in your favorite company doesn’t make sense if you’re paying $10 in commission fees.” So, Public does you the solid of keeping commissions at zero.

They do have a few other fees for advanced services that require payment including:

  • Broker-manned phone trades – $30
  • Domestic wire transfer – $30
  • Domestic overnight checks – $35
  • Returned checks or stop payments – $30
  • ACAT outgoing – $75
  • Paper statements – $35

Public doesn’t charge a transfer fee

What I found to be very generous was Public’s transfer policy when transferring funds from another brokerage. Public doesn’t charge a fee for this service, and what’s more, if the original brokerage does, Public will probably cover the costs for you.

Public features

Obviously, the biggest selling point for Public is the ability to buy stock in any company regardless of the share price (I’ll clarify this point more below). But there are some pretty neat features I stumbled upon while reviewing this company.

Here are a few worth mentioning:

Instant and real-time fractional stocks

Generally speaking, when it comes to fractionals, investment brokers will queue up the orders, and only put them through once in a while (once a day, sometimes once a week).

The problem with this is that you don’t get an accurate picture of the real value (i.e., the price you’re working with). Public executes your stock order immediately, so you can see in real-time exactly what price you’re getting. It’s a more accurate picture that investors appreciate.

And by the way, Public will also reinvest your dividends for you if you ask nicely (or even if you don’t ask nicely, but you do have to ask), increasing your chances of turning a greater profit.

Account funding via debit card

If you’ve shopped various investing apps, you’ve probably noticed that most require you to link up a bank account to get started. ACH is standard for online training. Any time you need to move money over to buy some stocks, the app takes it directly out of your bank account.

But Public is unique in that it lets you transfer funds using your debit card. The best thing about this option is that it’s faster. ACH transfers can take three to five days, but debit card transfers are instant. That means you no longer have to wait to take action on a stock.

You are limited to $1,000 per transfer with a debit card, so you may want to keep your ACH account as an additional funding source. You can then use your debit card in those instances when waiting around for ACH could cost you a very valuable opportunity.

By accepting debit cards, Public also makes trading more inclusive. You no longer need to have a technologically advanced bank to build your portfolio using an investment app.

Customer vs. company-centric model (aka partial share aka slices)

Public

The traditional stock market model works like this: To buy a share in a company, you pay the full amount of a share (or however many shares you want) and receive that percentage of the company as your own.

The problem with this type of business model is that some great companies out there have incredibly pricey stocks. A single share of Google costs roughly $1,300 as of January 2020. So most small-time investors won’t even consider this as an option.

Public works differently. With this platform, you invest what you can afford, rather than how much the total share costs. So, if you have $130 to invest (or perhaps just $30), then you can buy a slice of one share in Google. This way, you are investing in the companies you want without the limitation of a high entry barrier.

You can buy full shares of stocks through Public, too. When you do, you’ll get access to market, limit, and stop order types, so you can trade more extensively if you wish. Buying slices is just an added bonus that is unique.

More user-friendly categorization

If you’ve ever looked at a list of stock options, you might have felt like they were written in another language. That’s because the stocks are organized by industry, something that doesn’t necessarily line up with the way people experience companies in their everyday lives.

Public has done something that I personally really like, turning this system on its head. It organizes stocks into themes that are basically more user-friendly categories. So, if you are passionate about female-led companies or new-age industries, for example, you can browse these sections and invest in a company that is meaningful to you.

To just give you a ‘taste’ of some of Public’s themes: The Future is Female (S&P companies with female CEOs); New Kids on the Block (recently IPO-ed companies), and Cannabis. There’s also BioTech, Self-Driving Cars, and the list goes on.

Social aspect

Public

True to its name, Public has a large community forum where traders can comment and ask questions about all things trade-related; people can weigh in on their own experiences, or ask questions of others with direct experience in the category. For sure, the social aspect/layer helps investors, new and veteran alike, get more info, feedback, and insight into smart trading.

For me, Public’s social feed has been a real game-changer because financial institutions have historically seemed to be closed off when it comes to the free-flow of information on companies and investment approaches. The fact that you can follow people to see their portfolios and what they’ve invested in recently is great because several of the members are industry experts. So you can really get some good information from these forums.

But I’d definitely say learn who is reliable before you make any major investments based on a “tip.” I really like the idea of the community forums because it really helps new investors gain confidence and understanding. You make your first investments, learn the ropes, and get the hang of things. It’s also good for more weathered investors, but I think it’s really worth pointing out that newbies can wade in with certainty.

What I really like about this angle is that you’re not going it alone. As I’m sure you know, investing can be somewhat of a no-man’s land – a jungle where it’s every person is for himself or herself. This is great for aggressive investors who know the ropes. But for everyday Joe’s, it can be intimidating and often scares people from even trying to invest.

In-app chat support

In-app chat support might not seem like a big deal at first, but wait until the first time you hit a bump in the road on your investing journey. Then, you’ll definitely be glad that Public has this feature.

Chat support is available to answer all of your investing questions as well as manage technical hiccups for you.

High-interest cash accounts

In addition to the dividends you make on your investments, Public offers another way to earn. You can earn 2.5% on up to $10,000 of your uninvested cash.

I’ve got to say, that’s another huge game-changer for most of us at a very high rate (think 25x the national average high, per Bankrate.com data from April 2019). Though, it’s not as high as some high-yield savings accounts available.

And in the interest of safety, it’s worth noting that Public is insured by SIPC up to $500K. It also uses AES 128-bit encryption and TLS 1.2 secure data in transit.

Who is Public best for?

I’ve found that Public is an excellent tool that I strongly recommend for several types of investors, including:

  • People who don’t have a ton of money but want to invest
  • Newbies who don’t know much about investing and are looking for guidance and inspiration
  • Investors looking for a fast and easy user-experience
  • Investors who enjoy combining a social element to their investing
  • Anyone who wants to save money on commissions
  • People who want to invest using a debit card

Who shouldn’t use Public

But I will say that Public is not for everyone; I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Public as the best online investor option for you:

  • If you live outside of the United States
  • If you day trade regularly; this is not allowed on Public’s platform
  • If you are looking for OTC stocks
  • If you want more automation tools (i.e., a more passive investing experience)
  • If you are interested in more complex trade options like cryptocurrencies

Pros

  • Free investment platform — The biggest selling point for first-time investors is that Public is totally free to use. Well, for the most part. You can invest and transfer money in and out without paying a dime to Public, so it’s a free investment tool. Other options like share lending and order flow payments will cost you, though.
  • Fund transfers using debit — Other investment apps require you link a bank account to get started investing. With Public, you can transfer funds using a debit card. Since debit transfers are immediate, this means you’ll be able to grab that hot stock everyone’s talking about.
  • You’re not alone — Public offers both chat support and a community of investors to help you navigate first-time investments as well as glean insights into more advanced investment options.
  • Fractional stocks in real-time — Public is unique in that it combines commission-free trading with fractional investing. Competitors like Robinhood, Acorns, or Betterment have free commissions or fractional shares, but they wont combine both of these features in one convenient app as Public does.
  • Lots of investing information — Public does a great job of educating the masses on a seldom-discussed topics such as investment trends and best practices. It even provides a lot of background information on the individual companies, something that’s nice for people who are trying to invest in a cause.

Cons

  • Relatively new — So, theyre still working out a lot of the kinks. There are some bugs in the system, but at least they are continuously releasing improvements to the experience based on real user feedback.
  • Not an international solution — European, African, and Asian investors are all clamoring for this app to no avail. As of right now, Public is only available within the US.

Public vs. the competition

Far from a lone wolf, Public has a lot of competition in the online brokerage industry. And it’s not even the only commission-free service to make these offers. Here are a few alternatives if Public isn’t the right fit for you:

 Public Personal CapitalBettermentAcornsStash
Fees$00.49%-0.89%0.25% annual fee$1-$5 per month$1-$9 per month
Account minimum$0$100,000$0$0$5
Promotion2.5% APY up to $10KFree financial advice and spending tracker toolsRetirement savings fund$75 when you set up direct deposit with Acorns and receive two direct deposits of at least $250 per depositOne month free management
Reinvestment optionYesNoYesYesYes

Personal Capital

Public

Personal Capital is a financial advisement tool that also has a great spending tracker to help people save by watching what they spend.

This tool is free and lets you monitor everything from your savings account to credit cards and investment accounts.

Personal Capital also has a free retirement planner, investment analyzer, and portfolio checkup.

Betterment

Public

Betterment is a robo-advisor that specializes in easy automated portfolios.

For a small annual fee, Betterment manages diversified portfolios chosen from thousands of stock EFTs and bond EFTs, recommends risk profitability, and highlights investment strategies based on smart investing tools.

Acorns

Public

For first-time investors, Acorns is the go-to investment app in my book. Acorns allows you to squirrel away your extra cash (pun intended) and watch your savings grow without even feeling the difference. Simply connect the card you use most often and each of your purchases will be rounded up and the difference will be invested.

Acorns offers inexpensive plans, with $1, $3, and $5 options that come with a host of features, including a diversified portfolio of ETFs.

Stash

PublicStash is another great diversified stock portfolio option.

Unlike Acorns, though, Stash has multiple portfolios to choose from. So, you can have your pick of the litter, organized by industry and cause, for investors who want to choose a particular movement to follow.

Easy-to-use interface

Using Public was a dream compared to some investment apps (I won’t mention names). To begin with, the user interface is clean and uncluttered. Unlike a lot of other apps that have so much going on that you get overwhelmed just by logging on.

Public has tons of useful info

I also really enjoyed that Public loads up the app with tons of useful information. For example, I went to the themes section and scrolled down until I found a company I liked. I’m a shopaholic, so I browsed the retail theme to discover new companies that I didn’t even know traded publicly. Of course, Amazon was right there too.

I could’ve just invested my $10 into Amazon and walked away, but I like to know a little more about what’s going on behind the scenes. Public fuels that type of healthy curiosity by providing lots of background information.

I clicked on Amazon and read up on the latest market activity. Amazon’s doing well (big shocker), and I was able to invest with more knowledge than I had before. Win-win.

Here’s an example of a couple more Themes they offer:

  • Tech Giants The most influential and powerful tech companies, which include Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet (GOOGL), Oracle (ORCL), Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB), etc.
  • The Future is Female S&P 500 companies led by female CEOs, which include General Motors (GM), Kohl’s (KSS), IBM (IBM), Eventbrite (EB), Progressive (PGR), etc.
  • Clean and Green Environmentally-friendly companies, which include Vivint Solar (VSLR), Waste Management (WM), Ecolab (ECL), Darling Ingredients (DAR), etc.

There were only a few small negatives

The only real negative I was able to see from using this platform is that usage is limited to people living in the US.

Oh, and Public doesn’t offer OTC stocks (over the counter). Some investors might consider this a negative, but I understand the logic. These stocks are a lot riskier than other more regulated markets, so Public doesn’t want to take the chance. I guess I get their decision.

Summary

Public makes investing a reality for everyone by combining commission-free stock trading and fractional shares into one intuitive app. If you’re new to investing, have hesitated about investing because of the high price barrier, or are just looking for a simpler and (free) way to invest, then you’ll definitely do well with this platform.

Head over to Public’s homepage for a more in-depth explanation of how the service works and to get started investing today.

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About the author

Total Articles: 12

Sarah

Sarah Pritzker

Total Articles: 12

Sarah Pritzker is a professional writer who specializes in financial markets and trends in the U.S. She grew up in Virginia, went to university in Boston, lived in New York City, and circumnavigated the globe with stops in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Kenya, Uganda, Israel, and then back to the States. As a mom of 3, shes always looking for ways to save money - and is happy to share her finance research with the world. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn

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