M1 Finance Review 2018

By Adam Hayes  | March 20, 2018

M1 Finance is an online broker and investment manager that combines the best of self-directed and robo-advised investing.

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Overall Rating

M1 Finance Fast Facts

Based in Chicago, M1 Finance is an online investing platform that offers the best features of robo-advising - such as automatic rebalancing, recurring deposits, and tax efficiency - with the ability to self-direct your own, personalized investment strategy. Build your own portfolio, copy a portfolio designed by Wall Street experts, or set-it-and-forget-it with a robo-advised model portfolio. You can even combine these strategies by taking slices from expert "pies," adding self-selected stocks and ETFs, and then putting everything on automatic. M1 will do all this at no charge, as long as you open an account with a minimum of $100 (or $500 for a retirement account).

M1 is built for long-term strategic investors and does not cater to the active trader. Its platform helps people invest and put their money to work - with no fees or much time commitment.

pros

  • Free Automated Investing
    No charge if you open a taxable account with $100+ or an IRA with $500+
  • Hybrid Platform
    Combines the hands-off rebalancing and tax management of an algorithm with the ability to direct your own investments if you choose
  • Fractional Shares and Smart Rebalancing
    Every last dollar is invested and in such a way as to keep your strategy balanced

cons

  • Not Built for Traders
    M1 is meant for long-term investors, so you can't place orders for immediate execution
  • Limited Investment Options
    For now, you can put only individual stocks or ETFs into your pie, no mutual funds, options, or bonds
  • Lack of Investor Resources
    You won't find much in the way of investor education or research
2016
Launched
USD $100 Million
Client Assets
25,000+
Client Accounts

Products & Fees

Since late 2017, M1 has charged zero fees. There are no commissions or mark-ups either, as long as you open a taxable account with a minimum of $100 or a retirement account with a minimum of $500. For that low, low price, you have access to thousands of individual stocks and ETFs to select yourself or take on as part of a prepackaged portfolio based on your risk preference, investment horizon, or personal outlook toward a particular sector or type of investing (for instance, socially responsible investing).

In case you're wondering, M1 makes its money through a combination of payments for directed order flow, cash management, and lending securities to short-sellers.

  • Brokerage Account Minimum
    $100
  • Retirement Account Minimum
    $500
  • Stocks & ETFs
    Free
  • Options
    Not Available
  • Mutual Funds
    Not Available
  • Bonds
    Not Available
  • CDs
    Not Available
  • Forex
    Not Available
  • Futures
    Not Available

Trust

According to M1's privacy policy, "M1 Finance considers your privacy our utmost concern," and it does not sell any nonpublic personal information about you to anyone. M1 is also a member of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), so it has the proper regulatory oversight.

Up to USD $500,000
SIPC Coverage
(*Per Account)
Up to USD $150 Million
Third-Party Supplemental Insurance Coverage

What you need to know

M1 is transparent in its processes for protecting customers' privacy and funds. It never stores your data on any device, and any information is encrypted in transit (between your computer and M1) and at rest (on the servers at M1). M1 also does not store your bank credentials. When you establish the connection to your bank, it is given a token (electronic key) to access your account. You'll also find features such as two-factor authentication and fingerprint unlocking on the mobile app.

Special Features

Special Features

M1's platform focuses on making it as easy as possible (and free) to construct a portfolio and then automate it. For that reason, most of the tools and features on the platform are geared toward creating your personalized "pie" of investments. These pies are made up of various "slices," each representing an investment such as an individual stock, an ETF, or even another whole pie. The pie, with all its slices, then becomes the focus for managing your portfolio. M1 has more than 60 professionally designed pies crafted to meet specific goals, such as retirement. You can also create custom pies from scratch, selecting securities from the universe of U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs.

"Pie" Investing
Personalize, Customize, Automate Your Investment Strategy
Prebuilt Portfolios
60+ Pies Created by Financial Experts
Smart Rebalancing
Automatically Direct New Contributions or Dividends
Built-in Tax Minimization
Simplified Tax Harvesting

What you need to know

Pie investing takes advantage of the strengths of automated robo-advising along with personalized asset selection and portfolio strategy. Perhaps the most appealing feature of M1 Finance is that you get all this free, as long as you start with the already low account minimums.

Desktop Experience

Desktop Platform Experience

M1's platform relies on a nice-looking, single web page experience with easy navigation on a single menu bar. The clean and intuitive interface makes it easy to select your pie slices, bring them together, and then fund them.

Pros

With just one web page controlling everything, as well as sensible menu options, you won't get lost on the site. It's also easy to use the platform to find and build investment pies and to screen stocks or ETFs that you might be interested in. The web pages load quickly, and sessions are automatically logged out after a short period of inactivity.

Cons

What you won't find on M1's platform are charting tools for technical analysis or data and research resources for conducting fundamental analysis. While the platform is clearly built for long-term investors, as opposed to active traders, some investors may miss the tools and calculators found at other self-directed brokerages.

Mobile Experience

Mobile Platform Experience

M1 Finance's mobile app is available free for iOS or Android devices. The app features much of the same functionality and many of the design elements found on the desktop web version. It also applies functions unique to mobile devices, such as push notifications and fingerprint unlock.

Pros

The M1 app has much of the same functionality as the web version, so you can manage all of your accounts and investments from your device. The app has received high user ratings - 4.7 stars (out of 5) in the iTunes app store and 4.6 in Google Play.

Cons

The cons for the app are similar to those for the desktop experience: There are no interactive charts or research tools. It also lacks an alerts feature.

Customer Support

M1's customer support seems to be receptive and helpful. There are three ways to get in touch with M1: Click on Help in the lower right corner of the page once you've logged into your account, email the support team, or call a toll-free number. M1 support is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday except for holidays. M1 says it tries to handle inquiries as soon as possible and no later than the next business day.

What you need to know

M1's customer support receives positive scores from users who have taken the time to leave reviews. It provides easy access to help whether you are an existing customer or just thinking about opening an account. However, it has no dedicated TTY line for hearing-impaired customers and no live chat option. It does have an extensive set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that you can consult.

Research & Insights

M1 provides very little in the way of research or insights for a self-directed platform. While there is some basic market and stock-specific news, and a cursory overview of each stock or ETF available to you, that's about it. You'll need to come into M1 knowing what you want to do if you're not following a prebuilt pie.

Expert "Pie" Screener
Choose a pre-made portfolio or pie slice sorted by eight categories that correspond to common investing goals
Stock Screener
Search for listed stocks and sort by industry, market cap, P/E ratio, or dividend yield
Top Market News
Get a digest of the day's major economic and financial headlines
Market Movers by Ticker
See which stocks in your pies are moving today, sorted by largest gainers and losers
Watchlist
Monitor the stocks in your portfolio - and those you don't own but want to keep an eye on
ETF Screener
Narrow the universe of exchange-traded funds by category, assets under management, and expense ratio

Pros

You can screen for prebuilt investment pies that match your goals, as well as search for individual stocks and ETFs.

Cons

M1 provides no real research or planning tools. You're on your own to do your investing research elsewhere.

Education

For a platform that seeks to court young or first-time investors, M1 offers only meager educational resources. These are largely confined to a set of video tutorials on how to use the platform, along with a small but well-written series of blog posts called "Taking Stock."

Expert "Pies"
See Modern Portfolio Theory in Action
"Taking Stock" Blog
Personal Finance Thoughts, Stories, Inspiration, and Ideas
Walkthroughs and Tutorials
Learn the Ins and Outs of M1's Platform

What you need to know

M1 users won't find much in the way of formal financial education - there are no online courses, webinars, or e-books. But its well-written blog does provide some investing basics and market insights. If you don't want to educate yourself or lack the time to do your own research, you can always select one or more pre-made "pies" built by financial experts, covering a range of investment strategies and goals.

Banking

M1 Finance does not offer any banking services of its own. It is worth mentioning, however, that M1 uses a trusted third-party system to perform external bank account authentication and identity verification, so that the account opening and funding process can be done seamlessly and quickly online without piles of paperwork.

Bottom Line

M1 Finance is an excellent option for investors who don't have much time to manage their portfolios and would like somebody to just automate their ideas - at no charge. In terms of self-directed accounts, M1 is probably the best all-around platform for long-term strategic investing. But, at the same time, it has few in-depth educational resources, research tools, or calculators to help users determine how best to personalize their portfolios.

M1 also does not administer a risk-profiling questionnaire or guide users based on their risk preferences. This means that M1 is probably best for clients who have invested before, are comfortable with the markets and analyzing stocks, and have a good grasp on their willingness and ability to bear financial risk. People who are brand new to investing, and who do not understand their risk tolerance, may want to look at a traditional robo-adviser instead. M1 is least suited to active or short-term traders.

Frequently Asked Questions About M1 Finance

What is the minimum that I can invest in a single security?

M1 Finance uses fractional shares so that their customers can spend as little as $0.01 in any security. It's important to be aware that the minimum exchange fee for selling a security is $0.02.

Can M1 Finance rebalance my portfolio?

M1 Finance can rebalance your portfolio but will not initiate this process without explicit instruction from the account holder. If you would like the holdings of your portfolio to match your target portfolio, then you must initiate this process.

Is my personal information and identity totally secure with M1 Finance?

M1 Finance never stores customer data on any device and information is encrypted. Of course, these days nothing is a total guarentee on the internet, but this is the same with any broker.

What is a custom pie?

With M1 Finance the user can create their own custom pie where they choose up to 100 stocks, ETFs, or other pies that are similar to ETFs. This allows for highly customized investing and portfolio building.

Can I create more than one portfolio with one account?

With M1 Finance you can open up to 10 additional accounts under the same login. These additional accounts can be created at any time.

Adam Hayes
Reviewed by Adam Hayes

  • • 13 years professional experience as a derivatives trader and 5 years in private wealth management.
  • • Masters degree in economics and pursuing a PhD in economic sociology/social studies of finance.
  • • CFA charterholder, FINRA Series 7 & 63, and Life & Health Insurance Licenses.

Experience

Adam's expertise lies in the social studies of finance and technology. He writes about the influence of FinTech on society, including innovations such as Bitcoin & blockchains, RoboAdvisors, and InsureTech. Adam has also written on topics such as behavioral finance, personal investing, financial risk, and derivatives. His past expertise includes more than a decade of professional work on Wall Street as a derivatives trader and private wealth manager. Adam is currently pursuing a PhD in sociology where I study economic sociology and the social studies of finance.

Education

Adam received his Bachelors from Cornell University, his Masters from The New School for Social Research (MA in economics) and is currently attending University of Wisconsin-Madison for his PhD in Sociology.

Quote from Adam

"Too many people are scared of 'finance' for whatever reason. Finance needs to be de-mystified so that this fear is turned into the ability to recognize and take advantage of economic opportunities through investment, saving, and smart spending."

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