Looking for a self-directed brokerage to start your investing journey? Public and Robinhood are two mobile-first brokerage platforms that offer commission-free trading on stocks, ETFs, crypto, and more.
Both platforms bill themselves as beginner-friendly and they share many investing tools in common. However, there are important differences in the types of assets you can trade, what account types yo can open, and more.
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 is a private, venture capital-funded startup and doesn’t reveal how much investor money it manages. The team behind Public announced that it had surpassed 1 million users in 2021, but hasn’t released more recent user statistics.
Robinhood was founded in 2013 as a mobile-only brokerage. This investing platform 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 Financial LLC recently surpassed 23 million active users and has an estimated $62 billion in assets under management.
One of the major differences between Public and Robinhood lies in the type of investor they target. 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 or margin trading, and it 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. This stock trading app 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?
Stocks and ETFs
Both Public and Robinhood let you trade a wide range of US stocks. Public offers more than 9,000 stocks and ETFs, while Robinhood offers more than 5,000. Both brokers offer a selection of several hundred penny stocks.
Both investing apps allow you to purchase fractional shares of any stocks or ETFs they offer.
Both platforms also support crypto trading. You’ll find 25 popular crypto tokens on Public and 18 on Robinhood.
Robinhood offers options trading for a wide variety of US stock tickers. Public does not offer options trading.
Public lets you invest in treasury bills starting with a minimum investment of $100. You get a locked-in interest rate for your treasury bill and can redeem them for cash at any time. At the time of writing, Public offers up to 5.4% APY for treasuries investing.
Robinhood offers up to 4.65% APY on uninvested cash, but only if you pay for a Robinhood Gold subscription.
Public also lets you invest in alternative assets like fine artworks and collectibles. The list of assets you can buy a fractional share in is constantly changing. This feature offers a unique way to diversify your portfolio away from stocks.
Robinhood doesn’t offer any alternative investment options at this time.
Note that neither broker offers mutual funds.
Public vs. Robinhood: Account Types
Public only offers individual brokerage accounts. There are no retirement accounts. You can get started with no minimum deposit and there are no commissions for any assets.
Robinhood offers individual brokerage accounts and retirement accounts, including traditional and Roth IRAs. One nice thing about the Robinhood retirement account is that the platform will match your contributions 1% with no limit. This is essentially free money and there are no account minimums to worry about. All trading on Robinhood is commission-free, although options trades include regulatory fees.
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 a similar social network, but it does offer a few ways to find new stocks. For any stock, you can see recommendations for companies that investors who own that stock also own. In addition, Robinhood organizes stocks into lists that make it easy to search popular companies by industry or theme. The 100 Most Popular list on Robinhood is a good way to see what stocks other users are trading.
Public offers similar lists, but they’re much more focused on investing themes and governance considerations. For example, categories include ‘Women in Charge’ and ‘Growing Diversity.’ These lists can be nice for idea generation around a theme, but they’re not as straightforward if you just want to find the most popular stocks in any industry.
Public vs. Robinhood: Trading and Analysis Tools
Neither Public nor Robinhood offer particularly comprehensive analysis and research tools. That said, the two investment platforms are very comparable in terms of what tools they do offer.
Both Public and Robinhood give you access to basic line price charts, and Robinhood has simple candlestick charts. However, neither platform includes 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 and offer limited information about what professional analysts think about the future trajectory of popular stocks.
One important difference between Public and Robinhood is that Public strictly limits your ability to actively trade, whereas Robinhood encourages trading. Public doesn’t support day trading and can suspend your account if you try to make intraday trades frequently. It also doesn’t allow you to trade on margin. Robinhood, on the other hand, offers margin and uses social engineering methods to positively reinforce trading behavior.
Public vs. Robinhood: Customer Support
Public and Robinhood both offer solid customer service. You can get in touch with Public 24/7 through an in-app chat or via email. You can get in touch with Robinhood 24/7 via phone or in-app chat.
Public vs. Robinhood: Pricing
Both Public and Robinhood offer commission-free trades across all assets. Most investors will never need to pay anything to trade with either brokerage. Options trading on Robinhood includes a $0.65 per contract regulatory fee, which is standard among options brokers.
Public doesn’t have any premium subscriptions available. Robinhood offers Robinhood Gold for $5 per month. Gold offers 4.65% APY on uninvested cash, Level II market data, instant access to your deposits, professional research from the analyst firm Morningstar, and reduced rates for margin trading.
Which Trading Platform 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. While the social and stock discovery features differ, they aren’t a major differentiating feature between the two apps.
Here are some of the key things to consider when choosing between Public and Robinhood:
What assets do you want to trade?
Both Public and Robinhood offer stock, ETF, and crypto trading, which is all most investors are interested in. However, Public also offers treasury bill investing and investing in alternative assets. These asset classes can help you build a much more diverse portfolio. Robinhood offers options trading, which can enable you to take on more risk or better manage trading risk.
Do you want a retirement account?
If you’re looking for a retirement account, you’ll find it at Robinhood, but not at Public. Robinhood’s unlimited 1% match is very attractive, since few other brokers reward you with free cash just for contributing to your account.
Do you want to day trade?
If you plan to day trade or want to trade on margin, then you’ll need to use Robinhood instead of Public. Public does not support active trading and can suspend your account if you execute day trades frequently.
Alternatives to Public Aad Robinhood
If you’re looking for a self-directed brokerage with more research and analysis tools than either 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, whether you want to invest for retirement, and whether you plan to trade actively. Check out our full review of Robinhood here and our full review of Public here to learn more about these two brokerage apps.