Dalbar Finds Improvements In Many Financial Web Sites

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Allmerica Financial Corporation jumped into the top 25 life insurance/annuity Web sites for consumers in the last quarter of 2000, while Conseco and Zurich Life made significant improvements to their sites aimed at professionals, according to Dalbar Inc., a Boston research firm that ranks Web sites of financial firms.

Dalbar researchers base their ratings on their actual visits to insurers sites. Their quarterly rankings rate sites on their usefulness to their intended audience, currency of information and other factors.

Among sites designed for consumers, TIAA-CREF, New York, and Fidelity Investments, Boston, tied for first place for the second straight quarter, each earning Dalbars Excellent rating by scoring above 80 on the companys 100-point scale.

New York Life, earning the Excellent rating for the first time, improved from fourth place to third, bumping MassMutual to fifth place.

Dalbar says Allmerica, Worcester, Mass., made a striking improvement to its site, earning 12th place with a more consistent appearance and by making it easier for consumers to get in touch with its representatives.

Dalbar also credited Allmerica for giving consumers more retirement and tax planning support, including calculators designed for those purposes.

SunAmerica leaped 10 places, making it one of eight companies to tie for the 12th spot with the addition of investment return data and other product information, Dalbar says.

SunAmerica also added a historical lookup function that allows consumers to view historical subaccount performance data by date.

Looking at consumer-oriented sites in general, Dalbar noted many companies were posting up-to-date news. It found that 98% of life insurance/annuity carriers posted current news items on their consumer sites, up from 80% at the beginning of 2001.

More firms are also offering customers online access to their accounts. At the end of the year, 62% offered such access, up from 40% at the start of the year.

Common account access features include account balance summaries (offered by 62% of sites), the ability to make purchases, exchanges or withdrawals (36%), and transaction histories (30%).

Dalbar found that 44% of consumer sites have links to other helpful Web sites, up from 32% at the beginning of 2001.

Among agent sites, Pacific Life remains the only site to earn Dalbars Excellent rating, improving its score from 83 to 85.

John Hancock Financial Services, Boston, retained second place, while Aetna jumped to third place from sixth.

Dalbar lauded Aetna for giving agents more complete product information. Its site now allows agents to view daily changes in unit values for mutual funds as well as average annual return information. It also added up-to-date fund fact sheets.

Conseco, in Carmel, Ind., and Zurich Life, in Long Grove, Ill., each moved 15 places in Dalbars ranking of financial professional sites, to tie for 8th place.

Improved site designs played a part in the big move up for both firms, according to Dalbar.

Zurich Life also added the ability for consumers to make online purchases, Dalbar notes. The company scored highly, too, for improving the information on its home page and allowing easier access to other parts of the site.

GE Financial moved up to 4th from 10th place by redesigning its home page to make it more organized and produce more thorough information. GE enhanced the usefulness of the site with a table of contents, easily accessed sections, expanded sales and marketing sections and the addition of a savings calculator, Dalbar says.

New York Life rose from 24th place to 16th by improving agents access to client account information. Agents can now view client accounts, profiles and account preferences and execute transactions on line, Dalbar observes.

Travelers Insurance, Hartford, also made significant headway, moving up from 10th place to 4th among professional sites.

Dalbar says Travelers added a table of contents to its homepage and made it easier to find company contact information. The site also became easier on the eyes with more appealing graphics, Dalbar observes, while allowing agents to have access to useful information.

Overall, Dalbar observes, sites aimed at financial professionals are providing more up-to-date product information.

Dalbar says its researchers look for product information to be current. For instance, if daily unit values are given for funds, then they must be updated daily.

There was significant improvement on site currency, Dalbar notes, with 69% of sites posting up-to-date information, up from 58% in the third quarter.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, February 18, 2002. Copyright 2002 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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