Motif Review 2018

By Claire Boyte-White  | February 26, 2018

Motif is a niche online brokerage that provides pre-built and customizable themed portfolios containing up to 30 stocks and ETFs.

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Overall Rating

Motif Fast Facts

Motif is unique among online brokerages in allowing investors to focus their investments narrowly, whether on a specific industry, development, or corporate ethos. Users can choose from numerous professionally built "Motifs" that include up to 30 stocks and ETFs, centered on a core theme. Motifs focused on things like new developments in cancer research, robotics, clean energy, and eliminating income inequality are already available. Or, users can build their own Motifs quickly and easily.

Motif is for diversification-focused investors who have investment criteria not found on your average stock screener. If you're looking for broader exposure to a specific industry trend, want to invest only in companies that use sustainable practices, or need your investments to match your political views - but can never find the mutual fund or ETF that ticks all the right boxes - Motif may be for you. With monthly subscription services that offer free automatic investment and rebalancing, Motif is a full-service brokerage for its niche clientele.

pros

  • Free to Use
    No monthly fee or minimum balance for basic trading accounts; inactive accounts may be charged a $10 platform fee
  • Pre-Built Motifs
    Choose from more than 150 professionally built Motif portfolios
  • Simple Customization
    Build your own Motif or add and remove specific securities in pre-built Motifs
  • Commission-Free Trades
    "Next market open" trades of professional Motifs are commission-free
  • Motif Blue
    Real-time trading of professional Motifs costs just $9.95, an average of $0.33 per security
  • Real-Time Commission Savings
    Monthly subscription includes free rebalancing, automatic investing, and free trades
  • IPOs
    Quickly and easily place orders for specific dollar amounts to get in on the ground floor
  • Apps
    Track your investments and place trades on the go with both iOS and Android mobile apps

cons

  • Limited Security Offerings
    Motif currently supports only stocks, ETFs, and IPOs, so it isn't for investors looking for options, mutual funds, or forex
  • Quote Delays
    Only trade pages show real-time data. All other info is delayed by 15 minutes unless you purchase a Blue subscription
  • Motif Minimums
    Charts show only tick and are not customizable, and there is very little additional data available
  • Minimal Research Materials
    Charts show only tick and are not customizable, and there is very little additional data available
  • Niche-Focused Educational Resources
    Blog provides useful information on trends, market insights, and Motif developments, but little about other securities or investing basics
2010
Founded
USD $116+ Million
Assets Under Management (AUM)
300,000
Community-Built Motifs

Products & Fees

On Feb. 16, 2018, Motif simplified its commission structure to provide the most cost-effective trading for the products its clients trade the most: professionally built Motifs. A motif is a basket of shares of up to 30 stocks or ETFs. Unlike many larger brokerages, Motif isn't focused just on high-rolling investors. To help lower-income and younger investors make the most of Motif's products, the new pricing structure waives the commission for additional investments in professional Motifs you already own.

Since most Motif customers want long-term, buy-and-hold investments, the company has also developed a unique offering for investors who aren't looking to time the market: commission-free "next market open" trades. If you place a trade of a professional Motif, or an individual stock or ETF, you can elect to delay the trade until the next opening bell (9:30 a.m. Eastern time) and avoid paying any commission at all. Of course, the price you pay may be higher than when you placed the order, but the commission savings largely offset that risk.

  • Professional Motifs** (Real-Time Trades)
    $9.95 per trade + Annual Licensing Fees
  • Professional Motifs** (Next Market Open Trade)
    $0 per trade + Annual Licensing Fees
  • Custom-Built/Community Motifs** (Real-Time)
    $19.95 per trade
  • Custom-Built/Community Motifs** (Next Market Open)
    $9.95 per trade
  • Individual Stocks & ETFs (Real-Time)
    $4.95 per trade
  • Individual Stocks & ETFs (Next Market Open)
    $0 per trade
  • IPOs
    $0 per trade
  • Options
    Not Available
  • Mutual Funds
    Not Available
  • Bonds
    Not Available
  • CDs
    Not Available
  • Forex
    Not Available
  • Futures
    Not Available

Trust

Like any good broker, Motif is insured under the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) for the standard amount of $500,000 per client, with a $250,000 sub-limit for cash claims. However, Motif's clearing firm has also purchased additional coverage to ensure that clients are fully protected against brokerage failure. This insurance pays client claims that exceed the standard SIPC limits.

USD $37.5 Million
Insurance Per Client, including SIPC Coverage
USD $900,000
Sub-limit for Cash Claims

What you need to know

Motif ensures that its clients are protected online through the use of cookies and SSL encryption. Users can also elect to enable two-factor authentication with a security question at login. In addition, if someone tries to log in from an unfamiliar computer or IP address, Motif sends a time-sensitive code via voice or text to the phone number on file. If the user does not enter that code, the account is locked.

Special Features

Special Features

Since Motif's focus is on simplifying the complexities of investing for the masses, its platform isn't loaded with bells and whistles. This brokerage isn't built for the DIY investor who wants tons of research materials or features. The Motif system is, in itself, a special feature since it takes all the work out of building a portfolio. In terms of common special features offered by larger-scale brokerages, however, Motif isn't a major competitor.

Impact Portfolios
Fully Automated Portfolios
(for a flat monthly subscription fee)
Auto-Investing
Set Up Automatic Investments
Automated Rebalancing
Automatically Rebalance Professional Motifs

What you need to know

While Motif doesn't provide high-tech features, customizable charts, or backtesting capabilities, its recent updates offer some unique features that its niche clientele will find useful. Automated rebalancing for professional Motifs is no longer a paid service, meaning Motif will keep your portfolios on track without your having to lift a finger. Whether you want to build your own Motif - and maybe earn a few extra bucks if other investors think you're on to something (you get $1 if they copy your Motif) - or rely on the experience and knowledge of the pros, Motif has the tools to build a diversified portfolio quickly.

Desktop Experience

Desktop Platform Experience

The Motif platform, like its core offering, is simple. With a focus on drilling down to the necessities and making the investment process as streamlined as possible, Motif has created a platform that is both easy to use and efficient. The flip side of this minimalist aesthetic, of course, is that there aren't a ton of features or resources built in.

Pros

The web-based platform makes it easy to find a Motif that suits your goals and values. The main Motif page lets you search for a product using a number of criteria, including category, risk level, and professional vs. community-built portfolios. Using the Quick View function, you can also see past performance, a component sector breakdown, and volatility and valuation ratings, all without having to switch pages.

The full details page for each Motif also provides a chart showing returns over time compared to a relevant index. A full list of component securities appears on the Overview tab, along with their performance, ticker symbol, and current per-share price. You can also compare the Motif's past performance to any other ticker symbol, check out relevant news, and see what other Motif users and pros are saying.

You can set up watchlists for both stocks/ETFs and Motifs to keep track of investments that look promising, as well as trading alerts to notify you when a Motif you're watching hits a certain value. Every ticker symbol also provides a link to a list of Motifs that include that security, making it easy to find new investments based on your current interests.

Cons

The primary downside of the Motif platform is its lack of more in-depth features. Even for individual stocks and ETFs, the charting capabilities are minimal. You can see tick data, but no volume or other indicators or studies. For investors looking to dive deeper into the data, Motif's platform isn't the ideal place to do research.

Mobile Experience

Mobile Platform Experience

The mobile applications, for both iOS and Android, are functionally similar to the web-based platform but even more streamlined. While the blog is not available on the app menu, you can do anything else you would normally do on the web-based platform, including search for Motifs, stocks, ETFs, and IPOs, place trades, and track investment performance.

Pros

The apps are both aesthetically pleasing and easy to use, just like the website. Functionally, there is little difference between the two. The apps let you build your own Motif quickly and easily, with clear step-by-step instructions. The apps also have the same security features as the website, requiring account authentication via text or call when you initially log in. Once your account is registered, you can elect to stay logged in for up to 30 days and use fingerprint ID technology, making your investments literally just a touch away.

Cons

The primary drawback of Motif's apps, like its web-based platform, is the lack of additional features or research tools. Given that the Motif brand is built around simplicity and efficiency, this should come as no surprise. Though the app doesn't provide access to the Motif blog, it otherwise offers all the functions a user would expect or need.

Customer Support

The customer support section of the Motif site is fairly comprehensive. While contact methods are limited to phone, email, and internal messaging, the page does provide links to all the forms you might need, such as deposit and withdrawal requests, tax documents, and margin account agreements. You'll also find the relevant disclosures, terms of service, and privacy policy documents, and will be able to update your account information, all in one place.

What you need to know

Motif has both Facebook and Twitter accounts. Neither has been regularly updated in recent months, but that is likely to change after the February updates. However, the Motif YouTube channel is full of useful information and insightful videos. For registered clients, the internal messaging system is a quick and easy way to get answers to your queries, especially since phone support is available only from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, Eastern time.

Research & Insights

While the Motif site provides ample insight into specific Motifs, market trends, and new developments, it doesn't have a lot of other research resources. Given that the Motif ethos is to provide a simple, accessible investment experience, many of the in-depth research resources found at other brokerages may not be missed by this niche clientele.

Real-Time Quotes
Real-time quotes appear on trade screens, but users need a Blue subscription for sitewide real-time data
Motif Screener
Search for Motifs by category, risk tolerance, performance, and investment goals
Market News
Every ticker and Motif shows relevant news items
Investing DNA
Identify better investments based on financial goals, time horizons, risk profiles, investing interests, and personal values
Blog
Robust blog provides insightful posts on a wide range of topics
Social Sentiment
Ticker page Twitter feeds and "What Others Think" tab on Motif pages

Pros

While the Motif site may not be heavy on research, there's plenty of insight to be had. The site's blog is full of useful articles on specific Motifs, market trends, sectors on the rise, and retirement planning. The Hardeep's Thoughts, Investing Insights, and Trading Ideas sections of the blog are a gold mine of analysis and professional advice. The most useful research tool on the Motif site is undoubtedly the Motif screening page, which lets you find a Motif that contains a specific stock, aligns with your personal values, or is designed to help achieve your retirement savings goals.

Cons

As previously mentioned, Motif's charting capabilities are minimal. The fundamental data available for stocks and ETFs cover eight basic data points, such as day range, EPS, and dividend yield. While both Motif and stock/ETF pages do provide news feeds, they are not searchable or filterable. In addition, the robust screening features available for Motifs are not provided for individual stocks and ETFs. To pull up a stock or ETF quote, you have to enter the ticker symbol in the search bar. There are no tools to help investors find individual securities, since the focus is on diversified, packaged investments.

Education

While Motif doesn't support options, mutual funds, or other securities trading, the educational resources it offers for general trading, market basics, and strategy development are fairly robust. The Investing Insights section of the Motif blog includes categorized posts on topics such as personal finance basics, retirement, and taxes. In addition, Motif's YouTube channel has a wide range of educational videos aimed at helping investors of all experience levels identify appropriate investments and develop successful strategies to reach their goals. The brokerage's FAQ section can answer all your questions on the Motif model and how to use your account.

Investing Insights
Learn About Retirement Investing and More
Hardeep's Thoughts
Ideas from Motif's CEO, Hardeep Walia
YouTube Channel
Video Instruction and Updates

What you need to know

Unlike many other brokerages, Motif's educational offerings aren't spread throughout a mammoth website. Like the rest of this platform, Motif's blog is a user-friendly, one-stop shop. With articles on everything from the art of rebalancing to the impact of our shifting political landscape, the Motif blog has something for everyone. In early 2018, the Motif team was busy preparing for the February updates, so the blog and YouTube channel may be lacking in up-to-the-minute content. However, once all the new changes roll out, both should go back to being regularly updated with information on what's new at Motif, which industries are on the rise, and how to use Motif's unique investment strategy to achieve your financial goals.

Banking

Motif is a niche brokerage with a singular focus on thematic investing. While it does offer IRA accounts for retirement investing, it does not provide any traditional banking services.

Bottom Line

Motif is the definition of a niche brokerage, with a focus on making investing simple, affordable, and accessible to everyone. The streamlined platform is definitely not built for day traders or investors looking to plot chart patterns, analyze financials, or trade derivatives. Instead, Motif caters to buy-and-hold investors who want a hassle-free product with built-in diversification, as well as those who may previously have been put off by other brokerages' hefty account minimums, data overload, and high commission charges. With new Motifs being developed year-round, the company appears committed to hearing what its users want from a portfolio-based brokerage and then building those products to be as easy to trade and economical as possible.

Claire Boyte-White
Reviewed by Claire Boyte-White

Claire has been writing about retirement planning, tax policy, investing and corporate finance for over a year. After leaving her career in the insurance industry working for high-profile clients, Claire decided to pursue a career in writing. Her keen attention to detail and head for numbers has made her a perfect fit for Investopedia.

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