Now that U.S. investors have gotten the E*Trade habit, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Web brokerage will extend its reach, adding from five to 10 foreign language sites over the next two years. E*Trade already has English-language sites for Australia and Canada, and a Chinese-language site for Chinese-Americans. After a review of approximately three dozen interactive firms, the business has been assigned to Novo/Ironlight, San Francisco.
"It's not surprising that they're more aggressive [than competitors Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments] in trying to build a customer base outside the U.S.," said Paul Johnson, an analyst with IDC Research, Framingham, Mass. "While the benefits of penetrating foreign markets are obvious," Johnson said, accomplishing it is difficult. "There are a lot of regulatory and cultural barriers."
"We chose Novo because they had the experience building international consumer sites," said Pamela Kramer, vice president of product management and development for E*Trade. "We have a model we'll be repeating country after country and we'll be working through that model with Novo." Novo/Ironlight completed a number of international gateways for furniture retailer Ikea in 1997.
"This is one of the most exciting things we've undertaken," said Novo/Ironlight CEO Kelly Anthony Rodriques. "I'd call it the globalization of a business. There is a certain amount of pixel-pushing, but before that we're doing a lot of international strategy and cultural design work." Rodriques said the work was worth "multiple millions."
Language translation is only the beginning, said George Johnson, associate creative director for Novo/Ironlight. "It requires a fair amount of research, not in just traditional interface design, but also in human computer interaction. Whereas we use symbol look-up, for example, people in other countries know what the symbols are but that's not how they search for market indices." Similarly, U.S. online conventions such as buttons and tabs are not the same from country to country. The first site, for Sweden, is scheduled to launch in March.
Rodriques noted the high stakes for his company on this assignment. "[We've] got to redeploy something in another country which is very successful in North America. There's a tremendous amount of expectation and that makes us very proud."