Web Sites For TIAA-CREF, Fidelity Tie For Top Ranking In Dalbar Ratings

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There were some notable ups and downs on Dalbar Inc.s list of top-ranked life insurance/annuity Web sites for the third quarter 2001, although not as many as usual for the much-watched roster.

Among consumer sites, TIAA-CREF and Fidelity moved into a tie for first place and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company placed third. All three qualified for Dalbars ‘Excellent’ rating.

Meanwhile, Prudential dropped out of the top rank of consumer sites to fifth place.

Among sites for life agents and financial professionals, top-ranked Pacific Life Insurance Company was the only firm ranked ‘Excellent.’

Dalbars rankings did not change drastically for either consumer or agent sites in comparison to the first half of the year, notes Louis S. Harvey, president of the Boston research firm, a fact that may have much to do with Sept. 11 and other distressing news.

“Even if the events may not effect e-business directly, they do mean Web sites managers can’t get decisions easily from senior management,” he adds.

Among sites aimed at professionals, there were no new entrants in the top 10.

Among consumer sites, TIAA-CREF earned high marks for thorough retirement support, extensive news and market coverage, and market snapshots and economic reviews, all in a multimedia environment, Dalbar says.

Fidelity won No. 1 status for a superior education section coupled with detailed product coverage. Dalbar also lauded its site for continually improving and offering advanced features, such as intuitive planning calculators and e-mail support.

The Hartford Life Inc.s consumer site shot up to 6th place from 13th last quarter with extensive revisions. These include new planning tools and calculators that help consumers achieve goals, such as determining income needed for retirement or calculating monthly payments for buying a new home.

Hartford also added detailed company information, such as corporate financial statements and third-party ratings, Dalbar notes.

GE Financial Assurance, whose consumer site leaped from 19th place to 6th to tie with the Hartford, got high marks for offering more interactive features that help investors manage their accounts. GE customers can now view their pending transactions and transaction history, as well as make purchases or exchanges or withdraw funds. GE has also added online quotes for whole life insurance and a tax guide.

Conseco, Inc. also made a strong leap, from 19th to 8th place among consumer sites. It now includes a “Life Events” section that addresses financial planning for key life stages such as marriage, college and retirement.

“The sites overall look and feel is now much more consistent throughout,” notes Dalbar, “and quick-link additions to the sites home page have made it easier to use.”

Dalbar says much easier navigation helped move Transamericas consumer site to a tie for 8th place from 13th in the second quarter.

“The site has more quick links . . . and uses drop boxes so investors can navigate quickly and easily,” explains Dalbar.

Consistently, life insurers consumer sites showed improved currency of content. Dalbar found that 62% of the leading sites now offer current content in all sections of the site, up from only 28% last quarter.

The most significant improvements were in the currency of company information, such as financial statements, press releases and corporate overviews, and product information.

Among agent/financial professional sites, the most notable general improvement was in ease of navigation. Many sites added quick links to account access and other high-traffic sections. Dalbar now considers 76% of professional sites easily navigable, a 10% increase over the previous quarter.

Executives responsible for overseeing their companies Web presence say that constant improvement is key to a well-trafficked site.

Jim Harkness, vice president of electronic commerce for TIAA-CREF, New York, says his company recently introduced true paperless applications for individual policies.

“We became the first company to have a paperless application approved by New York State,” he says.

The site accepts e-signatures, enabling customers to buy their policies through electronic funds transfer in real time, he notes.

The company site also recently introduced an advanced annuity illustration system, which gives the consumer a true example based on his own data rather than on a generalized illustration.

TIAA-CREF also recently converted on-line financial education manuals to audio files, which consumers can download onto CDs to play back later if they wish.

Bill Flaherty, vice president of e-business for GE Financial Assurance, stresses the importance of research for improving a site, whether aimed at consumers or financial professionals.

Company marketers spend considerable time with customers, including agents, to understand their needs, Flaherty says.

On the producer side, company researchers found that agents want to spend much less time on administration and more time with their own customers. So GE designed its professional site accordingly, for instance, giving agents ready access to product information and to forms and reports on pending and in-force books of business.

On the consumer side, GEs site can deliver key documents electronically, including annual statements to policyholders, Flaherty adds.

“We also enhanced the look and feel of the site, making it easier to navigate by making the flow more intuitive and natural,” he says. “That accounted for a big improvement in our usability score.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 19, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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