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Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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ING to buy ShareBuilder

Seattle Times technology reporter

ShareBuilder, an 11-year-old online stock brokerage based in Bellevue, said Tuesday that it is being bought by ING Direct, an online bank, for $220 million.

ING Direct is a subsidiary of ING Group, a worldwide financial institution based in Amsterdam.

ShareBuilder Chief Financial Officer Dan Greenshields is taking over for Jeff Seely as president and chief executive. Seely is the executive chairman until the deal closes later this year.

Greenshields said the two companies will be a great fit. ING Direct targets a young population that wants to save money and is comfortable with doing transactions online. ShareBuilder goes after the same audience, allowing people to buy stocks and other securities online.

"Over the years, management has held brainstorming sessions, and we looked at the competitive landscape and asked, who would be an ideal partner?" Greenshields said. "We identified ING before they even approached us."

He said when the deal closes, pending regulatory approval, he expects there to be almost no restructuring. ShareBuilder will keep its name, its offices and all 170 employees.

"There are no plans to do any restructuring of any kind.... We will always have to respond to the business climate, but right now we have great plans for growth," he said.

The company, founded in 1996, was hit by the technology downturn a few years later, but it was able to raise and survive on about $68 million in venture capital.

ShareBuilder specializes in allowing customers to buy fractional shares of stock. For instance, customers can invest $100 in Google, even though one share costs more than $700. The company allows other banks, credit unions and organizations to sell ShareBuilder services under the institution's own name.

Greenshields said it was a tough call whether the company should be sold or go public. If it had gone public, the company, which has about 661,000 active users, would have been compared with very large financial groups, such as Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

He believes that being part of a much larger institution like ING will give ShareBuilder the size to compete.

"It's totally different. That's one thing we'll be able to leverage," he said. "We've always been constrained by capital and have had to carefully pick and choose everything we could do."

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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