By Claire Boyte-White | January 11, 2018
This review is for Motif's online investing platform from 2018. Our full 2019 review is coming soon.
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.
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. 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.
*Clients enrolled in the optional Blue subscription service ($19.95 per month) pay according to a different commission structure, including three commission-free real-time trades each month, unlimited next market open trades, and real-time quotes sitewide.
**With Auto-Invest Recurring Trading, additional automatic investments (minimum $250) in professional Motifs you already own are free. If you build your own Motif, invest in a community-built product, or customize an existing Motif, additional investments incur a $4.95 fee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Claire has been writing about personal and corporate finance, retirement planning, investing, and tax policy since 2013.
Claire believes that financial literacy resources and investing education should be readily available to everyone, so she enjoys making complex topics accessible and engaging. Her keen attention to detail and head for numbers have made her a perfect fit for Investopedia.
Claire received her Bachelors from Willamette University with a degree in Psychology.
"I know many people find investing and financial topics overwhelming. As our cultural and economic landscape continues to change rapidly, it's more important than ever for everyone - from new college grads to retirees - to feel comfortable and competent when it comes to financial planning. I consider my role in the industry to be that of a facilitator: breaking down intimidating concepts and making financial literacy accessible to all."
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