Motif Investing Review – Create Your Own Custom ETF (+$150 Bonus)

motiflogoReady for a start-up online brokerage site with a twist? It’s called Motif Investing. As a motif is a “dominant theme or central idea”, here you can invest in a group of up to 30 individual stocks that fit into a theme like “Housing Recovery” or “Lots of Likes” (companies that have the most Likes on Facebook). You can buy the entire basket of stocks with just one $9.95 commission, with no ongoing management fees. The minimum motif investment amount is $250.

My initial impression was that it felt a bit too trendy and gimmicky to recommend as a long-term investment. Indeed, I don’t really care how many Facebook Likes a company has, and I doubt I would buy stocks based on my love of pets or my political views. It’s just not my style.

But if you take a step back, since they let you customize the basket, anyone could essentially make their own ETF/mutual fund with zero expense ratio. You can’t track a broad index like the S&P 500 this way, but if you do have a basket of stocks that you buy regularly, this would be a very cost-efficient way of doing it. You can also set the relative weighting of each of the stocks in the motif.

Personally, I might try creating a basket of dividends stocks that hopefully will provide a long-term stream of growing income. For example, take the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY) that holds 60 highest-yielding stocks of the S&P 1500 that have raised their dividends every year for the past 25 years. It’s a nice idea, but it leaves out some good companies and the 0.35% expense ratio eats up 10% of the original yield of the underlying companies. Why not hold them directly and keep the 0.35% as extra return for yourself? There are a number of other dividend-themed motifs available as well.

In many ways, this is similar to the unlimited plan at Folio Investing, but Motif Investing has the potential to be a lot cheaper ($10 per motif trade with no minimum trade requirement vs. $29 every month for Folio) and is closer to a ETF in that they do real-time market trades. Motif also uses dollar-based trades, using fractional shares to keep everything organized. You can still do regular real-time trades of individual stocks for $4.95 per trade. No maintenance fees, no inactivity fees. Currently there is no automatic dividend reinvestment, you have to reinvest the cash yourself.

Right now, Motif Investing is offering up to a $150 cash bonus when you open a new brokerage account with $2,000+ and make 5 trades. If you make 1 trade, you’ll get $50. 3 trades will get $75.


  1. Are there any fees for withdrawing the money at the end of the 50 days? Do you have to spend $9.95 to start, or can you just leave the money there doing nothing for 50 days?

    • Actually, there is.

      It took me a long time to find that and it seems like they hide that fact. I’m trying to withdraw my money after putting it in, and right now I’m not sure how much it’s going to charge me.

    • Nick Bear says:

      Hi David. I work for Motif Investing and I wanted to clarify the answer to your question. There are not any fees to withdrawal money with us, unless you are doing a wire transfer which Calvin mentioned. Most of our customers set up a connection with their bank so they can move funds in and out as they please. This is not a cost.

      • How long it takes to withdraw? I am waiting to transfer back to my bank since 2 days

        • Nick Bear says:

          Troy –
          You need to wait till funds have settled to make a withdraw. This is T+3, so if you sold Monday, you could withdraw the funds first thing Thursday morning. Does this help? If you need further help please call our CS Team at 855-586-6843. Thanks!

  2. Interesting idea. Thanks for the heads up. I have the same questions David has though.

  3. Gift Idea?

    Do you know whether it’s possible to buy this for someone else?

    Wouldn’t $250 in an interesting or fun assortment in stocks be a nice gift for some occasion celebrating the start of a new longterm life phase (new baby, grad, marraige, etc)?

    It’s an interesting gift, sensible, teaches about finances, investing in that persons future, can make fun with intriguing mix of stock choices, etc.

    Any thoughts about this?

    • Nick Bear says:

      Hi Marie. I am a employee of Motif Investing. At this time we do not have the functionality to gift a motif, but we are excited about some similar directions in the future. More to come :)

  4. Basket/9.95 and fractional shares too – cool. Nice portfolios to attract tweens. This is the brokerage from future.

  5. How will these transactions be reported come tax time? If you set up a custom ETF with 10 stocks and buy once a month for a year… when it’s time to sell, is that 120 purchases to report, or 12? In a standard ETF, is it 12?

    • Nick Bear says:

      Brad. Great question. I am a employee of Motif Investing. These trades are reported at the individual stock transaction when filing taxes. We do provide a consolidated 1099 and upload file for Turbo Tax come tax season. We also offer IRA accounts!

  6. David – Check Request by Regular Mail from Your Brokerage Account
    You can also request an ACH withdrawal online No Charge

    It doesn’t look like you have to make a trade to get the bonus. The account just has to be funded.

  7. Brad – The best I can find about taxes is “Apex Clearing Corporation, our clearing partner, will generate the forms necessary to file taxes. Motif Investing does not provide tax advice.”

    Does anyone have any idea about the protection of our money? I’d like to know my money will be there in 60 days.

    • Nick Bear says:

      KP. I am a employee at Motif Investing. We are a registered Broker Dealer with FINRA and hold SIPC insurance. More importantly, we do not hold any of our customer’s money. We are the broker that provides the ability to transact in motifs, but Apex Clearing, the second largest clearing firm in the country holds all the assets. You can see more here in our FAQ’s.

  8. KP – from the FAQ:

    “Motif Investing is a Member of SIPC, which protects securities customers of its members up to $500,000 (including $250,000 for claims for cash).”

  9. Deymond says:

    Brad, buying and later selling an ETF position would be one purchase/sale to report to the IRS. If these “motifs” are not recognized as a unique type of security by the SEC and the IRS, I’m sure the IRS would consider all 30 stocks in a “motif” to be individual holdings. If that’s true, I suspect that selling one motif and then buying another could lead to some complex tax issues if any of the individual stocks overlap.

    I don’t see anything on the website about rebalancing. I get the impression that the “motif” concept only applies to the purchase, and not to portfolio maintenance.

    • Nick Bear says:

      Hi Deymond. I am an employee at Motif Investing. I did address Brad’s tax question above, but i wanted to discuss rebalancing. All motifs can be rebalanced for the cost of $9.95. At any time if you want to change the weighting of the positions in your motif, or you would like to add or remove positions, you can do this for one commission of $9.95.

  10. Re: Withdrawal Fees:
    There are no fees for check or ACH withdrawal, and I see no account closure fees either on their fees page:

    Re: Bonus Trade
    The terms are pretty clear that you don’t need to place a trade for the bonus, just some requirements based on funding.

    Re: Rebalancing
    If you look at the details of each motif under “How We Built This Motif” you’ll see a rebalancing frequency listed, usually either quarterly or annually. Right now all I can find is that rebalancing motifs is a feature that will be available for a “small fee”. It does say that you can also sell motifs for the same $9.95 commission.

    Re: Safety
    Motif Investing is registered by the SIPC and uses Apex Clearning (formerly Penson and PEAK6), so it’s as legitimate as a TradeKing or other discount broker. They are listed in the member database at

  11. Motif Investing is also listed at with no regulatory actions against it.

  12. This stuff is much too complicated for me. I’m glad I have a finance guy I trust to handle my retirement account.

  13. Interesting concept which a twist… I might try it instead of putting the money in where they manage and handle the stock or eft picks. This gives control to you.

  14. BTW, the $50 bonus offer is not for IRA accounts, it has to be taxable account as per their terms.

  15. Any tax experts? I second Brads question: Buying one motif equal one or 30 buy sells?

    • Nick Bear says:

      Kevin. I am an employee at Motif Investing. I did address Brad’s tax question above. Thanks!

  16. @Kevin:

    SEC doesn’t recognize motifs. Trading one motif is equivalent of trading all ingredients of that motif.

    Stocks overlapping in several motifs; keeping track of stock purchases and sales across motifs; identifying tax lots for determining short term/ long term capital gains; wash sales etc etc – taxes gonna be too complicated if motifs are traded frequently.

    But motifs would work awesome for buy-hold or monthly accumulation of stocks. I haven’t seen any other place that lets retail customer buy upto 30 stocks for just $9.95.

  17. randompacking says:

    Does Fidelity or Vanguard have a similar service?

    (sorry reposted to activate email notification of reply)

  18. Who owns the actual stocks in the Motif? If you own the underlying stocks it would protect you should Motif investing go bankrupt, you would be able to transfer the underlying stocks to another account or yourself. If Motif owns the underlying stocks and went under you would be out of luck.

    • Motif is a brokerage just like E*trade or TD Ameritrade and has the same SIPC insurance.

    • Nick Bear says:

      Hi John. I am a employee at Motif Investing. You as the account holder own the underlying stocks, just like any other broker registered with FINRA. We clear through Apex Clearing, the second largest clearing firm behind Pershing. Apex holds custody of all customer assets, we do not hold any.

  19. If I were to deposit $2500 to open up an account, how many stock will I be able to buy of FB, Apple, Yelp, and TWTR if I were to invest 25% in each company?

    Also, If I were to buy a basket of already made how much will it be?

    I see a cost for trading $9.95, but I don’t see anything how much will the baskets already made.

    • – if you put in $1,000, you would get $250 of each in fractional shares. Just make your own Motif.
      – $9.95 to buy all 4.
      – same price if you make your own Motif (basket) or buy a pre-made Motif.

  20. William Craig Shields says:

    I plan to do monthly contributions to 1-3 motifs/folios, say $1,000 @ month. For simplicity, I rounded Motifs fee to $10 from the $9.95.
    For 1 motif, it appears that Motif’s fees would be 12 months x $10 = $120 annual. Might need 2 rebalances a year (2 rebalances * $10). Now $140 annual ($120 + $20).
    If I invested my monthly contribution across say 3 motifs, that’s now $360 annual (3 motifs * 12 months * $10) + say bi-annual rebalance for another $60 annual.
    So I’m up to $420 @ year to manage 3 motifs, invest monthly & rebalance twice a year.

    Is my math and understanding of motif’s commissions correct? I can also see “tweaking” stocks in these motifs a little bit (adds or sells) which would add $5 to each “tweak”.

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