Kapitall Appoints Jarrett Lilien, Former E-Trade COO, as Its New CEO

9/17/12Follow @jpruth

Sometimes using a simple layout to explain a complex task such as investing can make it easier to comprehend. Kapitall in New York developed an online investing platform that uses a game-like interface to help its users better understand the stock trading world. Now the three-year-old company is eager to scale up and expand its user base. The company announced today it brought Jarrett Lilien on board as its new CEO and chairman to help guide its future. Lilien brings to Kapitall experience as a former E-Trade Financial president and chief operating officer as well as investor savvy as managing partner of Bendigo Partners in New York.

Lilien believes Kapitall’s game-oriented platform gives the company a strategic edge on rival online brokerages. “Everything on the Internet today is based on game mechanics, yet you look at online financial services and they haven’t changed in more than 10 years,” he says. Many of the competitors in this industry, he says, use platforms with very similar layouts. Having spent five years as president of E-Trade, Lilien may know a little bit about the sameness that spread across the sector.

After leaving E-Trade in 2008, he founded investment firm Bendigo Partners to seek out new technology in financial services. Lilien says competition among online investing brokerages typically focuses on making access readily available, low pricing, and fast trading. Looking for a different strategy, he was drawn to Kapitall’s focus on the user experience.

The company’s cloud-based platform, Lilien says, uses drag-and-drop controls and other elements found in apps and gaming to make online investing more intuitive. For example, Kapitall users can test the waters in a no-risk, virtual playground where they can try their hands at investing for amusement. Users earn points for such tasks as returning to the site, getting friends to give the platform a try, and exploring more parts of the website. This kind of points-driven incentive may be common for games, but Lilien calls it “a disruptive force within financial services.”

By introducing users to buying and selling virtual stocks in a game-style setting, he believes the platform can help individuals grow more comfortable with researching companies and actual trading. “It is not assumed that you know everything [about financial investment],” Lilien says.

Kapitall does not rely on its looks alone to differentiate itself. Users of the platform learn by seeing and doing, according to co-founder Gaspard De Dreuzy. He and his fellow co-founders wanted to make it easier for users to look up information on companies and offer rewards in the form of virtual currency. That virtual currency can be used to access more educational content to help users understand investing.

De Dreuzy, who served as Kapitall’s CEO until Lilien’s appointment, says the incumbent online financial services platforms tend to be daunting and intimidating for the layperson who may have limited experience dealing with financial data. “We felt those platforms were not really appealing,” he says.

Kapitall’s platform, he says, uses straightforward layers of information to help novices learn how to navigate the financial trading world. “It allows new investors to emerge in a very simple environment without too many data points,” De Dreuzy says. “As they use the system, they can unlock items that make the experience much more engaging.” The company also provides users with lists of stocks based on investing trends and news to give them a grasp of how the markets operate. “We’re curating a lot of content for users to give them a starting point in the research process,” he says.

De Dreuzy is remaining with Kapitall as its chief innovation officer. In a way he will build upon his roots as a software developer for the gaming industry. He plans to focus on populating the Kapitall platform with new financial apps and data for users.

Thus far Kapitall has raised $15 million in funding from backers who include Lee Barba, CEO of Thinkorswim online brokerage; Glenn Stevens, CEO of Gain Capital; Lilien’s Bendigo Partners; and Strauss Zelnick, CEO of video game publisher Take-Two Interactive. Lilien says Kapitall plans to seek more funding to add more apps to the platform and help attract more users who want to learn about investing but do not know where to start. “There is a huge need in the market for something more intuitive and in step with how people do things today,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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