Background Note | HBS Case Collection | January 2001

Online Brokers

by Thomas R. Eisenmann and Alastair Brown


Describes online brokers, companies that use the Internet to help clients identify prospective trading partners and sometimes help their clients complete transactions. First, summarizes the various ways that online brokers create value for their clients. Then analyzes the economic model for online brokers, focusing on their revenue and cost drivers. Building on that analysis, the next section examines the payoff to online brokers from pursuing aggressive growth strategies. Delineates the differences between and advantages of being a broker versus a retailer or a market maker, and explores some of the strategic challenges facing offline brokers as they move their businesses online, e.g., the risk of self-cannibalization and the threat of disintermediation by clients. Explores the value proposition offered by these companies and the economic imperatives they face. Finally, seeks to provide a framework to evaluate whether the adoption of aggressive growth strategies is prudent for online brokers.

Keywords: Business Model; Web Services Industry;


Eisenmann, Thomas R., and Alastair Brown. "Online Brokers." Harvard Business School Background Note 801-307, January 2001.