Investors drove the price of Green Dot Corp.'s shares up as much than 24% Thursday in the prepaid card company's first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The stock, listed under the symbol GDOT, reached $44.93 during the day, before closing at $43.99.

On Wednesday Green Dot priced the 4.56 million shares sold in its initial public offering at $36, above the $32 to $35 range the Monrovia, Calif., company had provided earlier this month.

The number of shares was 18% higher than Green Dot originally planned.

Demand from prospective buyers was greater than expected, Steve Streit, Green Dot's chairman, president and chief executive, said in an interview Thursday.

"We were able to go back to existing shareholders and shake the trees a little bit," he said.

Green Dot's IPO consisted entirely of secondary shares, so the company is not retaining the $164.1 million raised in the deal.

The prepaid card market is projected to reach more than $440 billion in value by 2017 compared with an estimated $120.2 billion in 2009, according to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group for MasterCard Inc.

Green Dot, which had 3.4 million active cards at March 31, is considered the largest marketer in the segment. Much of its growth has come from its relationship with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for which it provides the discount retailer's prepaid MoneyCard. Green Dot in May issued 2.21 million shares to Wal-Mart as part of an extension of the companies' business agreement.

NetSpend Holdings Inc., the Austin parent of Green Dot competitor NetSpend Corp., last week announced its intention to raise up to $200 million through an IPO to pay down debt and fund operations.

"It's a growing category," Streit said of NetSpend's plans. "Investors are probably looking for ways to participate, so the more the merrier."

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