For almost 200 years, Boston Equity Trust has belonged to a New England patrician family by the name of Throckmorton. It was thus quite a surprise when I was invited to visit the company's current president, Giles P. Throckmorton VI, in his office.
"I have the feeling you are just the man I've been looking for," Throckmorton said when we met, "to head up our Internet enterprises."
"Me?" I asked in surprise. "I don't know anything about investment banking and very little about the net. I just hang around the online gambling sites."
"That's why we're interested in you," Throckmorton said. "I'd like to hear your ideas on how we can move into online gambling."
"You mean that Boston Equity, which is probably the stuffiest investment firm in the country, is going to open a casino?" I asked.
"No, unfortunately Mother would never allow that." Throckmorton replied. "We are going to stick with our more traditional forms of gambling - like the stock market."
"What does the stock market have to do with gambling?" I asked.
"You have to be joking!" Throckmorton replied. "Just think about it. When you play roulette, you have to choose from only 36 numbers. But there are thousands of stocks! What's going to hit today? IBM? Microsoft? Exxon? Nobody knows - so it is a pure gamble."
"How about investment counselors?" I asked. "Certainly they have the necessary expertise to take the luck out of it for you."
"Don't be silly," Throckmorton replied. "Those idiots have no more idea of what stock is going up than pit bosses do about what number is going to be rolled next on the craps tables. Think about it - if they really knew what stock was going to hit would they spend their time selling on commission?."
"So you want to market stocks like the casinos market blackjack," I said. "How will the Securities Exchange Commission feel about that?"
"I can't see why they would object," Throckmorton replied. "It's already being done. It's called 'day trading.' The only difference is that we will be honest about what we are doing."
"For a start," I suggested, "you can offer sign up bonuses to new customers."
"That's exactly the kind of idea I was hoping you would come up with," he said. "We can offer $500 free with your first deposit of $2,000 or more. Of course, both bonus and deposit will have to be played…err, invested…before they can be withdrawn."
"Another good idea would be to offer special bonuses for people who play the riskier stocks," I said.
"Fine," Throckmorton beamed, "in fact, excellent! That would really stimulate play on the Commodities Exchange. I can see it now - invest $10,000 in pork belly futures and get and additional $1,000 worth of soy bean futures free."
"Good graphics and sound effects are also important," I said. "You can have a sexy blonde stock broker wearing a low cut dress."
"I already have one of them," Throckmorton replied, "her name is Barbie, but my wife doesn't believe I hired her for her marketing abilities."
"I didn't mean real blondes," I said. "Cartoon characters. And you program them to say things like, 'Would you like to double down on your Polaroid investment, or do you want to stand, honey?'"
"Can you really teach a cartoon character how to suggest stocks?" asked Throckmorton. "I haven't even been able to succeed in doing that with Barbie."
"How about advertising?" I asked.
"We already have a fine advertising program," Throckmorton said. "We work with Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal and numerous other financial publications."
"Forget it!" I said. "The online gambler doesn't have time to read those things. You can take banner ads on gambling portals."
"Why those sites?" he asked.
"Because they like it when I plug them in my columns," I replied. "Besides, your only other choice is spam."
"No Spam," said Throckmorton. "Remember, I was in the Army, I hate the stuff. Besides, I can't see how canned meat is going to sell stocks."
"Then it's all decided," I said. "I'll get to work on it immediately."
"Not so fast," said Throckmorton. "Don't forget insurance."
"You mean you will offer insurance bets, like in blackjack?" I asked.
"No," he said, "I want Boston Equity's insurance division to be part of our online gambling package."
"But what does insurance have to do with gambling?" I asked.
"That's what insurance is all about," Throckmorton replied. "You place a bet that you are going to die during a particular period. We bet that you are going to live. If you win, we pay off at something like 500 to 1, depending on your age. If you are really lucky and die young, you can get as much as 1,000 to 1 odds!"
"Great!" I said. "We can even offer specials - like twice the money if you die in an accident."
"We've been doing that for years," said Throckmorton. "It's called 'double indemnity' and the suckers…I mean, clients…really go for it."
"One last thing," I said. "Your name. It will have to be changed."
"I don't like that idea at all," he replied. "Throckmorton is an old and respected name, I am not going to change it."
"I meant the company name," I told him. "'Boston Equity Trust' is just not an attention grabber. You need something short and snappy."
"Well," Throckmorton said, "if International Business Machines can become IBM, I guess that we can do the same thing. Before long, we'll have the whole country running to their computers to take care of their financial needs at BET."