Circa5000 review: Is this app the best way to invest in the planet’s future?

17 min Read Published: 17 Nov 2021

Circa5000 reviewWhat is Circa5000?

Circa5000 (previously known as tickr) is an app that encourages users to see their investments as a tool to bring about positive changes for the planet. Its target audience is millennials, who are comfortable managing their investments through an app and are interested in "impact" investing. Indeed, 90% of its users fall into the 24-39 age bracket, with 90% being first-time investors.

The company rebranded earlier in the year, changing from tickr to Circa5000. Having enjoyed some success and attracted more than 140,000 investors, it saw the opportunity to broaden its ethical credentials, promoting the way in which investing itself can be a positive force for change. It aims to empower people to make investments that will, in turn, make a difference to the planet. It bases this message on the idea of users imagining being in the year 5000 and seeing the results of investments made now in a "human future".

Under the bonnet, the company is largely the same, with a focus on the app being easy to navigate and free of the jargon that puts a lot of would-be investors off. The core proposition also remains the same: giving people the ability to invest in an impactful and sustainable way through companies that are committed to tackling issues such as climate change and global inequality.

Whilst tickr - latterly, Circa5000 - has proved popular because if its straightforward approach to socially responsible investing, there are potential pitfalls with this style of investing. First, with the portfolios populated by a limited number of ETFs, it is unclear what this is going to mean for performance. While studies suggest it is possible to invest ethically without compromising returns, these tend to primarily assess actively managed funds rather than the passive vehicles used by Circa5000. That is not to say the portfolios won't perform well, but rather that it isn't guaranteed. The second issue Circa5000 presents is the fee structure, which can prove problematic for those investing smaller amounts, as we explore in more depth later in the article.

How does Circa5000 work?

Investors start by downloading the Circa5000 mobile app, which then leads them step-by-step through the set-up process. This is quick and easy to do and, indeed, investors can be up and running within a few minutes.

Step One: Choose your account type

Circa5000 currently offers investments through the following vehicles:

  • A Stocks and Shares ISA - Investors in the UK can invest up to £20,000 per year, tax-free. It is worth noting, however, that you can't have opened another Stocks and Shares ISA in the same tax year.
  • A General Investment Account (GIA) - Typically used by investors who have already used up their ISA allowance, a GIA allows you to invest an unlimited amount, although you will be liable for Capital Gains Tax.
  • A Junior ISA (JISA) - At the time of writing, Circa5000 has stopped onboarding new JISAs, although it has plans to begin accepting new applicants again by the end of the year. This vehicle allows you to save up to £9,000 per year, per child, tax-free.

Circa5000 doesn't currently offer SIPPs or Junior SIPPs, unlike many of its competitors.

Step Two: Choose your portfolio

Part of the rebranding to Circa5000 was changing the terminology from "theme" to "portfolio". Largely, however, what lies beneath is the same: a choice of three options for the focus of your investment:

  • Planet: Investments in sustainable food, water and energy, populated by ETFs for Clean Water, Global Clean Energy, Sustainable Future of Food and Green Bonds
  • People: Investments in medicine, education and digital security, with ETFs covering Cybersecurity and Data Protection, Digital Learning and EdTech, Pharma Breakthrough and Green Bonds
  • Planet & People: This option provides a combination of Clean Water, Cybersecurity and Data Privacy, Digital Learning & EdTech, Global Clean Energy, Pharma Breakthrough, Sustainable Future of Food and Green Bonds

Investors will also have a proportion of their portfolio allocated to bonds or held in cash, depending on their chosen risk level. This provides diversification but will also have an impact on potential performance.

Step Three: Choose your risk level

Once you have selected your investment portfolio, the next stage is determining the level of risk your are willing to take. The three risk levels are:

  • Cautious: if you're looking to minimise risk and achieve moderate levels of growth
  • Balanced: if you're willing to take on slightly higher risk, with more potential for better growth
  • Adventurous: if you're looking to maximise growth by taking on higher risk.

Circa5000 gives an explanation of the different risk levels but does not offer advice on which one would be most suitable for the individual investor. It suggests there is likely to be more volatility with the higher-risk options and recommends investors consider their time horizon, with those with a longer timeframe perhaps more able to tolerate a higher risk level.

Usefully, once you have selected your preferred portfolio and risk level, you can see an overview of your choices, which includes links to PDF factsheets for each underlying ETF. These documents, which come direct from the investment houses managing the funds, show past performance, risk and reward profiles, as well as fees and charges. This transparency on what you are actually putting your money into helps elevate the user experience, arming you with the information you need to do your own research and monitor your investment, without having to leave the app.

Is Circa5000 safe?

When tickr announced it was changing to Circa5000, there was concern among some users that it could change the protection they had previously been offered. However, as with tickr, Circa5000 is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is also part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which protects the first £85k of your investment. In addition, customers' data is stored securely, with data encrypted and protected.

How much do you have to invest in Circa5000?

A major selling point of the Circa5000 proposition is the fact it allows users to set up an account with as little as £5, with no requirement to commit to making regular investment into the account. In fact, you can choose to invest monthly or on an ad-hoc basis. This, along with the facility to connect to your bank and round up each transaction, investing the change, is designed to appeal to its millennial audience. The issue, however, is investing a small amount will mean it is very likely the fees will erode away potential returns.

This conflict between wanting to offer a low minimum investment but also having a flat fee structure is the biggest problem with Circa5000 and could easily put off investors. It is, however, far from being a unique issue, with companies like Moneybox having the same issue. You can read more in our review "Moneybox Review - Is it the best investment app?".

What fees does Circa5000 charge?

As previously stated, Circa5000 charges a flat fee of £1 per month. Once your account exceeds £3,000, you are also charged an additional 0.30% on the balance of your account above that threshold. There are also management charges for the underlying investments, which range between 0.24-0.65%, depending on the portfolio.

As discussed, while £1 per month may seem low, if you have invested less than, say, £100 per month, it can easily wipe out any potential return. You will need to commit to a minimum investment of £100-£150 per month - £1,200-£1,800 per year - to get the fees under 1% of the total investment.

What returns can I expect from Circa5000?

The performance of the funds in each of Circa5000's portfolios are shown in the table below, with the times when the ETF has outperformed its peer group average shown in green, and the times it has underperformed in red:

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Sustainable Future of Food theme:

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%) 10 year (%) 
Davy Rize Sustainable Future of Food UCITS ETF 11.87 n/a n/a n/a

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Global Clean Energy theme:

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%)
10-year (%)
iShares Global Clean Energy UCITS ETF 22.42 198.17 175.84 272.64

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Clean Water theme:

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%)  10-year (%) 
L&G Clean Water UCITS ETF 39.28 n/a n/a n/a

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Cybersecurity & Data Privacy theme: 

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%) 10-year (%)
Davy Rize Cybersecurity and Data Privacy UCITS ETF 34.69 n/a n/a n/a

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Digital Learning & EdTech theme:

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%) 10-year (%)
Davy Rize Education Tech and Digital Learning UCITS ETF 39.10 n/a n/a n/a

Performance of the ETF in the Circa5000 Pharma Breakthrough theme:

Fund 1-year (%) 3-year (%) 5-year (%) 10-year (%)
L&G Pharma Breakthrough UCITS ETF 5.41 26.38 n/a n/a

In summary, the performance figures to date perfectly encapsulate the fact that many ETFs in the impact investing sector are relatively new and, as such, lack a sufficient track record to be able to draw meaningful conclusions. That said, the iShares Global Clean Energy UCITS ETF has turned in strong performance for more than 10 years, notwithstanding the moderate underperformance relative to its peers over the past year. Overall, though, it remains to be seen whether investors will be able to enjoy consistently strong returns through a passive impact investing strategy. 

What are the advantages of Circa5000?

  • It is quick and easy to set up an account and start investing through the user-friendly app.
  • It allows investors to invest their money in line with their beliefs, with the potential to make a tangible positive impact on the planet over time.
  • It's designed to be accessible to people who may not have invested before, taking away off-putting jargon and confusing terminology.

What are the disadvantages of Circa5000?

  • It doesn't offer advice, with users having to choose a portfolio and risk level from a menu without any guidance over and above the brief descriptions and explanations provided on the app.
  • While using ETFs keeps the costs down, there are possible limitations when not using active funds, particularly in terms of targeted stock selection within the individual portfolios.
  • The £1 per month flat-fee is potentially problematic if you only intend to invest a smaller amount.

What are the alternatives to Circa5000?

Investment apps are growing in popularity in the UK, with an increasing number springing up targeting young customers who are new to investing. Circa5000 has cornered the market so far in terms of specifically offering impact investing. However, there are a number of competitors who have similar features.

Circa5000 vs Moneybox

The key concept for Moneybox is rounding up your day-to-day spending to the nearest pound and saving or investing the extra money. It's an easy way of making small, regular contributions, which quickly start to add up. With the investment option, you can also supplement the total amount with one-off payments or regular contributions. This is a feature shared by Circa5000.

Both Moneybox and Circa5000 offer Stocks and Shares ISAs, GIAs and JISAs, while Moneybox also has Lifetime ISA and pension options. They also both use passive funds in their portfolios, with Moneybox also offering a socially responsible investing account, which mirrors the impact investing objectives of Circa5000 to some degree. They also both share the same problematic £1 monthly fee structure.

Overall, there is little to separate the two. Circa5000 has a slightly more grown up and sophisticated feel, while Moneybox can seem a little gimmicky. Conversely, Moneybox has a greater breadth of investment accounts, with Lifetime ISA and pension options.

Find our full Moneybox review here.

Circa5000 versus Plum

Similar to Moneybox, Plum aims to help people make regular saving a habit. It works by analysing your spending and working out how much you can afford to save each month, as well as offering the same round-up feature as Moneybox and Circa5000, as well as other tools.

The investment option at Plum consists of 10 different portfolios, ranging from the high-risk, high-return Tech Giants fund through to the lowest risk profile in its Slow & Steady fund. Among the portfolios on offer, there is a Clean & Green fund, but overall Plum doesn't have the same amount of choice of impact investing themes as Circa5000 does.

It shares the same £1 monthly fee as Moneybox and Circa5000 for its standard investment option, while Plum Pro, which has a greater number of tools, has a £2.99 monthly fee.

To find out more about Plum, read our review.

Should I invest with Circa5000?

If you are looking for a way to invest that ties in with your principles, Circa5000 could be a good option for you. The app is easy to use and makes managing your account simple, even when you are on the go. Added to that, you can invest a relatively small amount to test the water without having to make a big financial commitment.

While there are issues inherent within the fee structure, for amateur investors keen to take their first steps into impact investing, it is definitely appealing.