Public is a community-focused stock investing app geared toward beginners and young social investors. SoFi Invest is also marketed toward young beginners, but is primarily a robo-advisor for investors wanting a hands-off approach. For U.S. investors just starting out, which do we recommend?
Let’s lay out the facts first:
- Founded in 2017, previously named Matador
- Founder: Jannick Malling
- Tradable assets: stocks, ETFs, and fractional shares
- Available in the U.S. only
- Fees very low across the board, option of tipping your broker for executing the trade
- Mobile availability only
- Founded in 2011 as Social Finance Inc.
- Founded by a group of Stanford business school students: Mike Cagney, Dan Macklin, James Finnigan, and Ian Brady.
- Tradable assets: stocks, ETFs, fractional shares, and crypto
- Available in the U.S. only
- Fees: very low, $75 for closing your account, no management fees, 1.25% for cryptocurrency transactions
- Mobile and web availability
Image: Public strives to make investing available to everyone. Like many other mobile-first apps, Public offers low fees and fractional shares. But their public investor portfolios, comprehensive Learn section, and social features set them apart from other free trade apps. Image from public.com.
Investing for Everyone
Public was founded with the central mission to demystify investing and bring the tools needed to make great trades to everyone, not just a select few. Public is a competitor to apps like Robinhood and Webull because of the low fees, mobile-first platform, and young audience.
Public places a major focus on making the investing community inclusive for everyone. Browse and invest in themes, or issues that investors want to help make a difference in. For example, users can invest in stocks grouped into a variety of themes with titles ranging from Combat Carbon to Gaming and eSports to Space Exploration to Women in Charge. These themes make investing fun and take out some of the mystery behind it. They also appear to a younger, socially-conscious audience.
An All-in-One Solution
SoFi seeks to create an all-in-one solution for investors. They offer active investing, automated investing, cryptocurrency, retirement accounts, and even IPO investing. With so many options, SoFi is truly an impressive investing platform.
SoFi also puts a heavy emphasis on their users reaching financial independence. They want to provide an investing solution that isn’t just for investors playing around in the stock market: it’s for long-term investing and future-planning. The company started out by offering student loan refinancing to help ease the crisis of student debt in the U.S. Now, they offer essentially everything that a traditional bank does.
Image: SoFi places extra emphasis on members reaching financial independence and achieving long term goals. They offer more than just low-commission stock trading and are similar to a bank in that they provide loans and insurance. Image from sofi.com.
Learn From Other Investors and the Education Section
Public is probably the best app out there today to learn the skill of investing. Everyone’s portfolios (minus the dollar values) are made public, so users can browse through and see what moves other investors are making.
The Learn section is also a great way to get your feet on the ground as a new investor. Their articles explain everything from meme stocks to inflation to retirement planning. We like that Public puts as many educational tools in the hands of investors as possible, so beginning investors can become smart, savvy traders more quickly.
Learn From Financial Advisors
SoFi gives users full access to its team of financial advisors at no extra cost. This is a huge advantage, since most other apps charge for use of human assistance, whether it’s phone-assisted trades or more in-depth counseling. We like that SoFi gives users this massive benefit.
Another way to learn and stay up to date with the markets is through SoFi’s blog. Categories include Career, Lifestyle, Money, and SoFi News, so investors can learn about a variety of topics that relate to investing.
Image: Themes, which are categories of stocks created for investors to easily find issues and businesses they want to invest in, are a key feature of Public. Image from public.com.
A Robo-Advisor With More
One of the huge benefits of using SoFi is their automated investing option. While users can find active investing at low rates in many other apps, a comprehensive robo-advisor is harder to come by.
All users have to do is set a goal, such as retire early, buy a house, pay for your child’s college, and more. Then, once they put money in, it starts doing work without investors even needing to touch it. SoFi automatically rebalances your investments and ensures you’re diversified across a variety of asset classes.
Another unique feature of Public is the social side of the app. Investors can make chat groups, create posts and comments, and follow other investors. This makes the app part investing portfolio and part social media.
While some investors might not like the combination of social and finance, we think it’s a great way to bring the knowledge and skills needed for making smart investment choices to the greater public. This model eliminates the previous closed-door world of investing and helps just about anyone get into the markets with confidence.
Image: Robo-advisors are on the rise, and SoFi is a heavy-hitter in the lineup. With personalized goal setting, automatic portfolio rebalancing, and portfolio diversification, this automated investing feature is ideal for investors who want a hands-off approach to growing wealth. Image from sofi.com.
Everything the New Investor Needs
Aside from the theme categorization of stocks, the incredibly low fees, the educational tools, and the social aspect, Public has other great advantages for new investors.
For one, you can make instant debit card deposits into your account. This is perfect for investors who are working with smaller amounts of money and who want to be able to get cash into the app quickly when the market conditions are right.
Public also offers fractional shares. Like many other mobile-first platforms, Public makes it easy for small-portfolio investors to invest in expensive stocks.
Loans, Mortgages, and Refinancing
SoFi does more than just offer active and automated investing: users can refinance student loans, take out new loans, get a mortgage on their house, refinance an auto loan, buy nearly any type of insurance out there, open a credit card, earn interest on a savings account, finance a small business, and more. SoFi does just about anything a bank does.
This app could be a great option for users who are trying to make some serious moves. For example, if you’re trying to figure out how to pay for your MBA, SoFi can help. Or if you’re thinking it’s time to get an insurance plan, SoFi can help. The app really is an all in one solution for nearly any investor.
Transparency in Investing
One of the things we like about Public is that they are incredibly transparent about many aspects of their business. They have a section on the website called How We Make Money, which lists everything they do to keep their end running. They are payment for order flow free—PFOF is a controversial way many free trading apps make money—which could be a draw for many investors.
Here are the ways Public makes money, according to their website:
- Tips for brokers: Users can tip their broker every time a trade is executed. This is entirely optional.
- Securities lending to their securities firm, Apex.
- Interest on uninvested cash balances.
Image: SoFi offers many of the features that low-cost stock trading apps do, such as fractional shares. Investors can buy a piece of a stock with just $5, making SoFi a great platform for investors working with smaller amounts of money. Image from sofi.com.
Here are a few drawbacks from Public and SoFi:
- Not a ton of different assets to invest in.
- U.S. only
- No tax-loss harvesting.
- U.S. only
Public and SoFi both have great options for new investors. Both apps offer different services, so we believe using both is the best way to reap the benefits of them. Public is great for stock trading, learning from other investors’ portfolios, and creating a social space with other users. SoFi, on the other hand, is perfect for automated investing and refinancing or taking out loans for big expenses, such as college and mortgages.
Overall, we believe that both platforms are great choices. They can work in conjunction very well together.
Is Public legit?
Yes, you can be sure your funds are safe in Public. They are SIPC-insured.
Is SoFi legit?
Yes, you can be sure your funds are safe in SoFi. They are FDIC and SIPC-insured.
How does Public make money?
Public does not use PFOF (payment for order flow) to make money. Instead, they make money through optional tips users can give the broker for executing the trade, lending securities to Apex, and interest on uninvested cash. They list all of these methods on their website.
How does SoFi make money?
Because SoFi offers tons of services, they make money in a more complex way than other low-cost stock trading apps. They make money through interest on loans, selling loans, interest from uninvested cash in the cash accounts, payment for order flow, charging 1.25% on crypto transactions, and selling insurance. Read more about how SoFi makes money here.
Is SoFi a robo-advisor?
Yes, SoFi has a robo-advisor option. Users are not limited to their automated investing, however, because they offer many other services and account types. Their automated investing includes portfolio rebalancing, goal setting, and diversification across a variety of asset classes.
Where is Public available?
Public is available in the U.S. only.
Where is SoFi available?
SoFi is available in the U.S. only.
Does Public have crypto?
No, Public does not offer cryptocurrency.
Does SoFi have crypto?
Yes, users can invest in cryptocurrency on SoFi.
Is Public better than Robinhood?
We recommend Public over Robinhood for many reasons. Public has more features to help new investors learn the markets and the company takes a transparency-first approach to their business. We also like that Public demystifies confusion around stock trading by making investor portfolios (without the dollar amounts) public, so users can follow investors and see what they’re trading.