The Webcast Babe: E*Trade’s E-Reporter Kate Bohner Is the Voice of the Post–New Economy

Whoever said that the mind-bending dream of day-trading your way to a honey-soaked land of Lexuses, flat-screen TV’s and $58 Izod Polynosic Golf Shirts is over? Certainly not the people over at E*Trade.

Yes, the grand opening on April 5 of the E*Trade Center on 540 Madison Avenue was overrich in irony, and many have remarked on it. Nasdaq was crashing, million-dollar bankers were looking for work. Yet there were the black-clad ex-bartenders with wet, spiky hair and a single earphone sitting you down in a purple velour chair before the sleekest of Compaq laptops. There were the TV screens in the restrooms, with their bizarre shots of gauzy cotton balls and gurgling drains. There were the neatly folded Wall Street Journal s. The $10 Mangia sandwiches. The pumped-in jazz. So what if you’d just been laid off? Come down to the center, have a free cup of coffee, open an account–$150 bonus for every new sign-up!–and maybe, just maybe, you might be able to catch the bottom for JDS Uniphase.

At the very least, you can catch the 9 a.m. live Webcast by Kate Bohner. Remember Kate Bohner? Of course you do: There was the quickie marriage to Michael Lewis of Liar’s Poker fame in 1994, the book she co-wrote with The Donald in 1997, those gossipy little spots on CNBC soon after that. Then there was her presence–Nobu, Le Cirque, the Four Seasons and downtown. Page Six, Intelligencer, Rush & Molloy all gave her her due. But then–well, she sort of disappeared.

But now, at the age of 33, she is very much back, on the air six days a week as E*Trade’s media team do their CNBC thing.

“I’m Kate Bohner, and we are broadcasting live from the E*Trade Center in Manhattan,” Ms. Bohner intones deeply into the microphone, on a shining Monday morning two business days after E*Trade’s Madison Avenue grand opening. Ms. Bohner is power-dressed in a dark pinstripe pantsuit, and her three-inch black heels glimmer in the morning light. She is sitting at a table, her legs demurely crossed, in the Mangia-catered cafeteria on the third floor of E*Trade’s $12 million trading center.

The floor is virtually empty, save for some Mangia waitresses chattering away in French. But everything is bright, shiny, enticing. A shimmering new Lexus IS 300, the prize for an E*Trade contest, sits in the room, looming to Ms. Bohner’s right. The E*Trade logo decorates everything, from $45 lighters to $6 pens for the cell phone.

Ms. Bohner, behind the news desk on the spanking new E*Trade set, also shines brightly. “Hi, I’m Kate Bohner, and I’m reporting live from E*Trade’s bathroom, from the fabulous Webcam in the toilet,” she jokes as her producers grin from behind a battery of cameras. Her voice is getting throaty; she is having some fun, getting just a little bit sassy. “Hi, I’m Kate Bohner, and I had a fa-a-ab -ulous weekend; how was yours?”

If E*Trade was all about New Economy dreams–of Lexuses driven and jobs booming and portfolios growing–Ms. Bohner may be just the woman to revive those dreams. Hearty, lusty even, exuding a relentless self-confidence, she looks to be the very model of the post-New Economy Money Honey–becoming for E*Trade what Maria Bartiromo became to that Fort Lee, N.J., old-media bastion, CNBC.

As the lead market correspondent for E*Trade’s start-up financial-news effort, her mandate is to do CNBC Lite–a Kate Bohner take on the day’s news in the markets. Her one-hour show, in which she chats with hedge-fund managers and the like, is available each morning on E*Trade.com, her blond bob popping up in the left-hand corner of your screen. And if millions aren’t tuning in–or showing up in the morning, Today -show style, to catch her live–so what? These are dreary times, and we are all panting for Ms. Bohner’s flirtatious optimism, delivered daily from E*Trade’s grand, sparkling monument to the glory days of day-trading.

In many ways, the center is the richest of blank slates for all who migrate there–a veritable dreamscape, with its friendly young men smiling away, its plates of filet mignon at the food bar, its $60 E*Trade grooming kits for sale. It’s all there, offering fresh starts, new dreams, opportunity: “Hi, I’m Kate Bohner, and we are broadcasting live …. “

The Comeback Kid

“What I love about E*Trade is that the people are so incredibly bright and imaginative,” Ms. Bohner enthused over a glass of white wine at the St. Regis lounge on her first Friday night after the E*Trade launch. “I mean, you can pitch anything. I came up with this one idea that we should put our radio show that we do live on the A.T.M.’s. We have 9,600 A.T.M.’s throughout the nation. ‘Done,’ they said. Now when you are waiting for your money [at an E*Trade A.T.M.], there is the radio show.”

Ms. Bohner’s road to A.T.M. fame has been a strange one. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she was a columnist for Forbes magazine in 1994 when she was swept off her feet by Michael Lewis. Eighteen months later, Mr. Lewis was swept off his feet by MTV’s Tabitha Soren, and Ms. Bohner was single again.

She parlayed a positive article on Donald Trump into a co-authorship of his Art of the Comeback in 1996. And she parlayed that into a television gig.

It was the cusp of the boom, and CNBC was still grasping for its iconic role. Agents were on the lookout for spunky, smiley females with a modicum of financial-reporting experience. Maria Bartiromo was one early find–as was Kate Bohner.

Ms. Bartiromo was soon to find fame and fortune, while Ms. Bohner merely plugged away, filing dispatches on C.E.O.’s and other business leaders for CNBC’s Power Lunch segment. She was a personality, but by no means a star. And in 1998, her contract was not renewed.

No problem for Ms. Bohner: The Internet gold rush was just beginning, and she was off to London as the president of an Internet venture called Startupcapital.com. She would go from reporting on business figures to becoming one.

“I like venture capital. I think it’s interesting. I like seed-funding and ideas, too, and there are a lot of interesting characters,” she said.

One was Stephen Morris, a flashy British venture-capitalist. He was the main backer of Ms. Bohner’s company and eventually took a shine to his buxom chief executive. They became an item.

Not that Ms. Bohner wasn’t qualified for her venture-capital and Internet-honcho post. She knew who the players were, and her slide-show skills were first-rate, to say nothing of her other charms.

“He hired me because he knew I would do a good job. I would get up in front of investors and give a PowerPoint presentation saying: ‘This is the deal.’ But you are in your Armani suit, and you are a woman. That’s a fact. Maybe he thought that would be more powerful than having some other schlumpf do the job.”

This is tricky ground for Ms. Bohner. She is a successful professional with some savvy, smarts and experience, but–there is no getting around it–she is not beyond a little Mae West role-playing if the situation calls for it.

“A C.E.O. of a very prominent company once said to me: ‘Kate, if it comes down to me having dinner with you for a story or with some schlub from The Wall Street Journal , I’m going to have dinner with you.’” Suppressing a giggle, she calls for another glass of wine. “That’s the reality. Sure, it also works against you. But my theory is, when it is working for you–go for it.”

When her relationship with Mr. Morris cratered in June 1999, so did her job. After a brief pit stop at JagNotes, a Web-based financial-news provider, she joined E*Trade last December.

Now, each day, she’s back to life as a working journalist. Ms. Bohner gets to the E*Trade offices at 6 a.m. From 6 to 9 she goes through all the newspapers and talks to people on the Street to pick up perspectives on the day’s events. She does the show, with two co-hosts, from 9 to 10 a.m., does a “live hit” report on WebFN.com at 10:30 a.m., and spends the rest of the day talking to her sources, eating steak for lunch with hedge-fund managers and prepping for the next day’s show. On Friday afternoons, she and her media team do a wrap-up of the day to be broadcast on Saturday morning.

But might there not be the slightest conflict of interest in financial news being broadcast and supported by the country’s largest online-trading shop? Perhaps a bit of pressure to be extra bullish?

“It’s true. I’ve never lived through a bear market or a war. There may be times on the air when it sounds as if I’m being overly enthusiastic,” she concedes. “But it’s not because I’m pumping up the market; it’s because that’s all I know. The markets always recover. I fight against it all the time. I’m trying to create some discipline in my mind about it, because a lot of these stocks are just not going to come back, although I can’t say that on the air.”

Still In It

But, of course, it’s clear in everything that Ms. Bohner reports on: in her comments about tired hedge funds, in her chronicling of the ups and downs–and downs and downs–of the Nasdaq and Dow Jones and every other economic indicator of the post-boom world.

It’s there in the trickle of customers who work their way to E*Trade’s Madison Avenue Dreamworld, out of curiosity, boredom or just aimless uncertainty.

“In the past six months, I’ve lost $70,000, which is a lot of money for me,” said one customer, Lino Pinho, who had walked in on a particularly dreary Friday afternoon, soon after Ms. Bohner wrapped it up for the day. Mr. Pinho, who had skipped out from his office nearby, where he works as an international banker, was virtually alone on the floor, sitting in a plush armchair and peering morosely at his laptop screen and his portfolio of plunging tech stocks. “It’s too bad. I was looking forward to going to Europe with the family this summer. That’s gone,” he said with a shrug.

“But you’ve got to stay optimistic,” he went on, “or you will be jumping out of the window like those guys did in the 1980′s.” He pulls up a chart for CMGI, the Internet holding company. “I bought this in the 30′s. Now it’s trading at around two.”

But with the little cash he has left, he is still looking to buy more. Why? Isn’t enough finally enough? “Naahh,” Mr. Pinho said, with a shake of his head. “Trading is like an addiction. You get greedy. Once you make money, all you want to do is make more.”

And, of course, that’s what E*Trade’s brave new trading world is all about–second chances, replenished dreams, fearless hopes. They won’t give up, even as their portfolios shrink perilously. So they will come to this high-tech mecca, listen to the soft jazz in the background, commiserate with the trading associates who are ready (like the barmen they once were) to listen to a tale of woe or two. And maybe, if they are feeling a bit spunky, they will ogle Ms. Bohner a bit.