E*Trade Gets $400 Million Tap From Web Kingmaker

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The online stock trading service E*Trade got a big boost Friday afternoon when the giant Japanese software distributor Softbank announced it was investing a fresh $400 million in the upstart brokerage. Forget Kleiner Perkins -- the Tokyo-based Softbank is the real kingmaker when it comes to anointing web frontrunners. The investment raises Softbank's stake to 27% of E*Trade, and matches the company's large ownership interest in other web winners like Yahoo (31%) and Geocities (35%). Softbank also owns more than 70% of electronics publishing giant Ziff-Davis.

As with Softbank's $250 million infusion into Yahoo last week, the most likely use for the cash is promotion. Look for a big push in September for E*Trade's stab at a "financial portal" called Destination E*Trade. Originally slated for a roll-out last May, the E*Trade site is supposed to be the personal finance and investing version of ESPN Sportzone or CBS Sportsline -- a central hub with monster traffic that's worth money to other marketers. This suddenly seems workable, especially if Softbank's even bigger web investments throw traffic to E*Trade. In related online broker news, Charles Schwab -- the largest service with 1.8 million web accounts -- has unveiled a new site design.