How Investment Platform Executives Build Global Platforms

Written by

Carl Hazeley

VP of Content

How Investment Platform Executives Build Global Platforms 

What’s going on here?

To understand how some of the world’s biggest investing platforms are navigating the retail investor landscape, we hosted Interactive Brokers’ executive vice president of marketing and product development, Steve Sanders, and’s co-CEO, Leif Abraham, to discuss firms can best meet customers’ needs and grow beyond the US.

What were the highlights?

Serving the “next generation” of investors isn’t the only strategy

You define the next generation of investors in a number of ways. Commonly, it’s known as a cohort that barely experienced the global financial crisis and instead grew up through the longest “bull market” for stocks in history. 

But Interactive Brokers sees three types of investors more broadly: the do-it-yourself (DIY) investor, social investors, and those who prefer to use an advisor. Interactive Brokers’ strategy is to focus on serving DIY investors of any age or generation.

Investing has become more global and is becoming more holistic

Our panelists are seeing, and expect to continue to see, the resurgence of investor interest in asset classes that have previously fallen out of favor, like bonds. 

Investors are becoming less speculative in areas like meme stocks and cryptocurrency. Instead, they're thinking more holistically about their investments over the long term – and across multiple assets.

“Today, over 80% of our clients come from outside the US. When we first started, it was all US.” – Steve Sanders, Interactive Brokers

Education helps investors make more informed decisions, especially when it comes to using riskier products

Panelists agreed that education for investors is important, whether that means learning by doing and building fundamental knowledge, more formal routes made available by investing platforms, or through reading news and newsletters. 

One challenge is that using the term “education” may put investors off though, especially those who see themselves as relatively sophisticated. To reach this group, offering “content with context” to their decision-making can be more valuable. 

Community is also a key way to deliver education and context in a user-friendly manner, with an aim to help investors avoid making irrational decisions.

“Community is driven by its culture.” – Leif Abraham,

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Challenges and tips for scaling in new markets

Our panel acknowledged two major hurdles when it comes to offering brokerage services in new markets: clearing and compliance.

While you can’t do much about adhering to clearing and compliance requirements, there are a few things our panel said they focus on. That’s namely user experience, product localization to make sure a product’s appealing and appropriate for new markets, and assessing the competition. On the third point, Public argues it’s only worth entering a new market if you’re confident you can offer something “more awesome” than what’s already there.

A big-picture view on marketing

For firms with a long track record and tons of data, it's worth focusing on the hard numbers when it comes to marketing. That’s why you won’t catch Interactive Brokers paying for a Superbowl TV ad slot: it doesn’t suit their target audience. And wherever they do run ads, Interactive Brokers will have precise cost-per-acquisition data. That doesn’t stop the company from experimenting, mind you. Even now, Steve Sanders says he’s continually surprised by his team coming up with successful ideas that he himself would never have expected to work.

The other end of the cost-per-acquisition equation is customer lifetime value. reckons people stick with companies where there’s an alignment in values, not just products and features. 

“Try to build a fan base, not just a user base.” – Leif Abraham,

Here’s an example of what Leif means:’s betting that optimizing for “emotional retention” – which is harder to compete with – will feed through into traditional user retention metrics over time.

Why should I care?

We heard from two companies at opposite ends of the spectrum, one approaching 30 years old and the other not yet five years old. Yet they’re both facing the same challenges: a new generation of hands-on investors, proliferating competition, and the difficulties of expanding geographically as well as their product offerings. 

The firms’ respective approaches help show the industry at large that solutions don’t have to be one-size-fits-all. And having heard from both, you’ve now got the opportunity to combine the best of their approaches to come up with innovative solutions for your own firm.

Get even more insights by watching the full conversation on YouTube.

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