Photo: Courtesy Hardeep Walia
Hardeep Walia wants you to stop gambling on stocks and bet on ideas instead.With that goal, the veteran of Microsoft’s mergers and acquisitions team is launching Motif Investing, a new online brokerage, today.
From what Walia has shown us, Motif promises to be the kind of game-changer that the stock-trading world rarely sees, but desperately needs—we’re reminded of the launch of E-Trade in 1991, ShareBuilder in 1998, or FolioFN in 2000.
The basic concept: an easier, cheaper way to trade baskets of stocks. The bigger mission: to prevent you from getting screwed by fees and commissions.
Walia has former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt and ex-Citi and -Merrill executive Sallie Krawcheck—both of whom have made names for themselves as passionate defenders of individual investors.
Photo: Bloomberg via YouTube
Krawcheck, who left a top position at Bank of America last fall, told Business Insider that she’s been looking for opportunities in financial startups for the past four to six months. This is the first board seat she’s taking.”I wouldn’t be joining this if I didn’t think it was good for investors,” said Krawcheck. (If you’re not following Krawcheck on Twitter already, do.)
As the Facebook IPO debacle has made all too clear, Wall Street has not dropped its habit of aggressively fleecing small stock traders.
Motif can’t fix the problems of selective disclosure that gave institutional investors a better grip on Facebook’s prospects going into the IPO.
But Walia thinks he can better their lot in other ways—by offering diversification at a lower cost and giving them a more direct way to turn investing ideas into trades.
The problem with both ETFs and mutual funds? Fees, or the nagging feeling that you’re paying some doofus to lose money on your behalf. And it takes so long to launch a new fund that they rarely capture the best ideas in time.
Walia gave the example of the mobile Internet: How do you invest in that trend? Jim Cramer proposed a mobile Internet index in 2009, but no one seems to have done anything with the idea.
Or, say, Facebook. So far, buying actual shares of Facebook doesn’t seem to be paying off as a way to play social networking. Walia’s alternative: Buy the companies with the most likes on Facebook. (Hey, it’s outperformed the S&P.)
Motif users will be able to create their own motifs and share them with friends—either small groups of trusted fellow investors or one’s entire Facebook friends list. (In that, it’s like Path, the private social network which lets you choose which moments to share with a small group and which to broadcast on Facebook and Twitter.)
The success of sites like StockTwits suggests there’s a strong appetite for discussing investing ideas online. Motif’s hope is to capture those ideas and turn them into trades.
Notice how much money you and your friends spend at Starbucks? Buy into a motif called Caffeine Fix. See iPads everywhere? There’s a motif for that: Tablet Takeover.
Another way Motif aims to help individual investors: Straight-up cutting costs.
FolioFN, now Folio Investing, has long offered a close equivalent to Motif. The McLean, Va.-based online brokerage similarly promised to revolutionise how small investors could buy diversified holdings. Just like Motif, Folio lets you build your own tradable baskets of stocks, or buy some off-the-shelf baskets.
But Motif’s pricing is vastly more aggressive. For a 30-stock basket, Folio will charge you $4 per stock—or $120. Motif charges $9.95 to buy or sell a similar basket.
Motif also skips account-maintenance fees that Folio and most other online brokers charge customers who don’t trade frequently. (You can also pay Folio a $290 flat annual fee which covers unlimited trading, which might make it a better deal for some frequent traders with large portfolios. Motif doesn’t currently have a flat-fee offering.)
Walia swears he can make money at these prices. We know that wholesale trading costs have plummeted thanks to increasing automation, so it’s a plausible claim. But we haven’t seen the company’s financials, so you’ll have to take his word for that.
Motif, based in San Mateo, Calif. has raised $26 million and has 70 employees. The most recent financing round came last year from Ignition Venture Partners, a venture-capital firm largely made up of ex-Microsofties like John Connors and Brad Silverberg (Connors is on the Motif board). One eye-catching hire: Connie Kuhl, a former top E-Trade executive who ran customer service, operations, and public relations.
Here’s what Motif’s motif-building interface looks like—you can easily change the weighting of individual stocks or themed groups with sliders.