Motif CEO Hardeep Walia isn’t shy about sharing his political opinions. He's quick to acknowledge that socially, "I am extremely left."

But that personal infusion of social values has been missing from investing, Walia says, which is why the Silicon Valley-based digital brokerage is offering a new investment tool, Motif Impact Portfolios.

"We wanted to build a product of our times," Walia says. "And the times are political. People care about where their dollars are going. And yet there is a big pool of assets, where people have no clue. And those decisions are delegated to people who may or may not share your values."

Motif CEO Hardeep Walia challenges the transparency of currently available ESG funds. (Bloomberg News)
Motif CEO Hardeep Walia challenges the transparency of currently available ESG funds. (Bloomberg News)

Motif partnered with MSCI ESG Research to evaluate investments on the social values an investor tells the firm are most important to them. Companies that don't fit are replaced in portfolios with those that do. Motif is offering three value themes to start — sustainable planet, fair labor, or good corporate behavior — and will add more over time, Walia says.

The firm conducted its own survey of investor attitudes, and found that the majority of respondents didn't know what was in their investment holdings, nor whether their investments were aligned with their own values.

Acknowledging the very act of categorizing a company as socially responsible is a value judgment itself, Walia says investors are free to disagree with recommendations and tailor their portfolios.

But such transparency and flexibility, Walia says, is a quality still lacking in an industry that is currently focused on promoting investment automation.

"The easiest way to protect the investor is through empowerment," he says, referencing the recent debate over the Department of Labor fiduciary rule. "And empowerment starts with fundamental data and making it easy to access and understand."

Walia challenged the mutual fund industry, saying that investors have been provided little choice to invest with their values in a meaningful way. Unlike most robo advisers, Motif doesn't put investors into a fund, but rather lets them invest directly in shares of a company through its service.

"We're voting with our consumption dollars, but not our investment dollars," Walia says. "We're blindly giving them to the Vanguards of the world, who then vote, and we're passive."

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Suleman Din

Suleman Din

Suleman Din is technology editor of American Banker and Financial Planning. Follow him on Twitter at @sulemandn.