Over the past three decades, investing has become dramatically more accessible with the standardization of the commission-free trading model*. This has played an important role in broadening the investor class, but like many innovations, it has come with a new set of challenges that must be addressed.
Without commission fees, brokerages lean on other forms of revenue to sustain and grow their businesses, including Payment for Order Flow (PFOF), a much-debated practice in which a brokerage firm receives rebates on trades routed through its clearing firm.
The main criticism of PFOF is that it creates misalignment between the financial aims of the brokerage and the interests of its clients. As of Feb. 16, 2021, Public is officially PFOF-free and will no longer have order flow as a revenue generator for our business. We are committing to this to better align our financial goals with the best interests of our growing community of investors.
The culture of the financial services industry has never been famous for its transparency, and we think it’s time for that to change. As a commission-free brokerage app1, we want to make sure our customers fully understand, in plain terms, how our business makes money. So here’s the breakdown.
As a replacement for revenue we would otherwise generate via payment for order flow and to compensate for the additional costs of routing to exchanges, we have introduced an optional tipping feature for customers to use when they make a trade. Members can choose to add a tip to their trade to support our commitment to not participating in payment for order flow. Importantly, members can choose to execute their trades without commission fees1 or tipping if they so choose. You can find more information on our FAQ page.
Our clearing firm, Apex Clearing, operates a fully-paid securities lending program. If a member of Public is enrolled in the program, Apex can loan out their shares to investors and institutions (e.g., retail investors, banks, market makers, institutional investors). Those borrowers pay a market-driven interest rate to Apex. Apex then provides us a portion of the interest they receive as a rebate against our clearing and custody fees. Shares loaned out are typically used by borrowers to facilitate short sales.
Importantly, your investment exposure doesn’t change if Apex loans out some of your shares, meaning you keep all gains or losses with respect to those loaned shares. You are always able to sell your shares. That said, loaning out shares does affect you in some ways. If Apex loans out shares owned by a Public member, the lender waives voting rights, may receive payments in lieu of dividends, and those loaned shares may not be covered by SIPC protection. Please see Apex’s Fully Paid Securities Lending Disclosures for more information on the mechanics and risks of the Apex Fully Paid Securities Lending Program.
You may opt out of Apex’s Fully-Paid Securities Lending Program at any time by sending an email to us at email@example.com with “Securities Lending Opt-Out” in the subject.
Interest on cash balances
We earn interest on uninvested cash balances. The current interest rate as set by the Federal Reserve is 0.2%.
Markups on cryptocurrency transactions
When you submit an order to buy or sell cryptocurrency using the Public app, that order is sent to Apex Crypto for execution and Apex Crypto holds your crypto. Apex Crypto charges a 1% to 2% markup to pay for their service, which is reflected in the price at which Apex Crypto executes your order to buy or sell cryptocurrency. The markup covers all of the costs associated with facilitating crypto transactions and storing crypto, and Public receives some of the revenue generated in exchange for licensing our software to Apex Crypto.
Here’s how it works:
Say the current market price for a cryptocurrency is $100.
You purchase $100 worth of that asset.
Applying a 1% markup, Apex Crypto executes your order at a price of $101.
You will own slightly less than 1 full portion, given the markup.
Currently, we don’t have any paid-for premium features, but as we develop the platform we intend to introduce new products for which we might charge a subscription fee.
As a venture-backed company, we are focused on growing our community of investors and providing the best service to them. Ensuring our financial goals align with the best interests of our customers is foundational to our future success as a business, which is why they take precedence in all the decisions we make, big and small.
As Public grows and evolves, we commit to providing continued transparency to our customers regarding how we make money.
Questions about our business (or anything else)? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* | Zero-commission” or “commission-free” means $0 commission for Open to the Public Investing, Inc. self-directed individual brokerage accounts that trade U.S. listed securities via mobile device. Other fees may apply. See our Fee Schedule for more information.