Looking for a self-directed brokerage where you can start your investing journey? Public and Robinhood are two mobile-first brokerage platforms that offer commission-free trading and a huge variety of stocks.
Both platforms bill themselves as beginner-friendly, but they take very different approaches when it comes to the tools available to help you start building a portfolio and dive into trading. We’ll compare Public vs. Robinhood head-to-head to help you decide which broker is right for you.
About Public And Robinhood
Public was founded in 2015 and was originally named Matador. The app changed its name as part of a revamp in 2019. Public originally began as a venture capital-funded startup, but it’s now owned by T3 Securities, a large broker-dealer. The company doesn’t reveal how many users Public has or how much investor money that Public manages.
Robinhood was founded in 2013 as a mobile-only brokerage. The company broke ground as one of the first online brokers to offer commission-free stock trading, and it has since become one of the most popular trading apps in the US. Robinhood recently surpassed 13 million active users and has an estimated $20 billion in assets under management.
One of the major differences between Public and Robinhood, which is reflected by the two brokers’ features, is what type of investors they are targeting. Public is designed for first-time investors who want to build a long-term portfolio or dabble in trading. The company made a conscious decision not to offer risky investments, such as options, penny stocks, or margin trading and doesn’t allow day trading.
Robinhood, on the other hand, targets both first-time investors and traders who are willing to take on more risk. The broker offers a wider range of assets, including options and penny stocks, and encourages active trading with many aspects of its app design.
Public vs. Robinhood: What Can You Trade?
Public offers a relatively limited set of assets to trade. The broker has just over 1,000 stocks and ETFs, all of them from the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ exchange in the US. You won’t find penny stocks that trade on largely unregulated over-the-counter markets on Public.
Robinhood, on the other hand, offers trading on almost all US stocks listed on the major exchanges along with thousands of penny stocks and foreign stocks (through American Depositary Receipts). In all, there are more than 5,000 stocks and ETFs available on Robinhood.
Both Public and Robinhood allow you to purchase fractional shares of any stocks or ETFs the two brokers offer. In addition, neither broker requires you to deposit a minimum amount to open an account. So, you can start investing with as little as $1 with either platform.
Robinhood also offers riskier asset classes, including stock options and cryptocurrencies. Currently, the broker has 7 of the most popular digital coins available for trading, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Public vs. Robinhood: Stock Discovery
The process of discovering new stocks to invest in is at the heart of Public. This stock app differentiates itself by offering a built-in social network where you can follow other investors. Every investor has a public profile, so you can find out more about what types of investments someone is interested in and even see their current holdings. The app has an Instagram-like feel, except that instead of photos, individual profiles are filled with stocks and funds.
In addition, Public allows you to start conversations with other investors. You can directly message anyone on the platform, as well as set up group chats with investors with whom you share interests. The app also shows comments from individual investors on stock pages, which can offer some insight into why people are buying or selling shares of a company.
Robinhood doesn’t offer any similar social network. For any stock, you can see recommendations for companies that investors who own that stock also own. However, there are no public profiles, and there is no way to contact another trader through Robinhood.
One element that Public and Robinhood have in common is that they each categorize stocks and funds in order to help you find new investments. These categories not only cover market sectors but also broader investing themes. For example, Robinhood has categories for ‘China’ and ‘Cannabis,’ while Public has categories like ‘Women in Charge’ and ‘Growing Diversity.’
Public vs. Robinhood: Trading And Analysis Tools
Neither Public nor Robinhood offer particularly comprehensive analysis and research tools. That said, the two platforms are very comparable in terms of the tools they do offer.
For example, both Public and Robinhood give you access to basic line price charts, but not to any technical indicators. Public leverages its social media data to track how popular a stock is over time and correlate that with price changes, but it’s difficult to know how to trade based on this information since Public isn’t a huge platform. Both trading apps have basic news feeds, plus information about what professional analysts think about the future trajectory of popular stocks.
One major advantage that Public has over Robinhood is its support. You can access Public’s customer service team from an in-app live chat button. Robinhood, on the other hand, only offers support by email.
Public vs. Robinhood: Pricing
Both Public and Robinhood offer commission-free trading. Most investors will never need to pay anything to trade with either brokerage.
Whereas Public doesn’t have any premium product, though, Robinhood offers Robinhood Gold for $5 per month. Gold allows you to trade on margin, gives you instant access to your deposits for trading, and includes professional research from the analyst firm Morningstar.
Which Service Is Better?
Public and Robinhood each have a lot to offer, and which is better ultimately comes down to what’s most important to you in a trading app. Both brokers offer completely commission-free trading and fractional shares, so there’s little difference in how much you have to invest or how much it will cost.
Public puts guardrails in place to protect new investors from taking on too much risk, plus offers a social network where you can share ideas and get encouragement from other investors. Robinhood, on the other hand, offers a wider range of stocks and funds as well as risky assets like options and cryptocurrencies.
Alternatives To Public And Robinhood
If you’re looking for a self-directed brokerage with more research and analysis tools than Public or Robinhood offer, consider an online broker like E*TRADE, Charles Schwab, or Merrill Edge. These brokers are designed for intermediate to advanced investors, but they offer a much wider range of portfolio management tools and access to professional research to help you choose your investments.
If you’re interested in investing in a ready-made portfolio and want to take a hands-off approach to investing, a robo-advisor might be better for you than a self-directed broker. Investing platforms like Betterment, Wealthfront, and Acorns allow you to choose a portfolio that matches your investing goals, then manages your portfolio on your behalf over time. There’s no research or active trading required, but you will pay a monthly subscription fee for these services.
Conclusion: Public vs. Robinhood
Public and Robinhood are two of the top brokers for new investors looking to build a portfolio or actively trade stocks. Both offer commission-free trading and user-friendly apps to help you start investing. Which platform is right for you depends on what types of assets you want to invest in and whether having a social network for stock discovery is important to you. If you’re still struggling to make your choice, you can check out our full review of Robinhood here and our full review of Public here.