Dalbar Says Fidelity And Pacific Life Repeat As Top Web Sites

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Fidelity Investments, Boston, remained at the top of consumer-targeted life and annuity company Web sites during the second quarter of 2002, while Pacific Life Insurance Company, Newport Beach, Calif., held onto its lead among sites for agents and financial professionals, says Dalbar Inc., Boston,.

Dalbar, a research firm, ranks sites on ease of use, quality of functions, currency of content and consistency of approach.

Among sites for professionals, Pacific Life has held the top position since the first quarter of 2001, when it edged out Fidelity and John Hancock Financial Services, Boston.

Pacific Life has the only agent-oriented site that earns Dalbars excellent rating, which the firm reserves for insurers that score 80 or better.

Fidelity remains Pacific Lifes closest competitor in Dalbars professional site rankings, increasing its score from 75 to 78, while Hancock slipped to 13th place from third since the first quarter of 2002 as its score fell from 72 to 64.

By far the most improved agent site was Massachusetts Mutual Life, which leaped from 25th place in the first quarter to seventh place in the second. MassMutual completely redesigned its professional site, making significant changes to each of its major sections, Dalbar notes.

“MassMutual also expanded the access to its producer extranet and made it accessible to all MassMutual producers and support staff,” Dalbar states.

Easier navigation and increased news and market information also helped boost the site, according to Dalbar.

“We took a site with a lot of verbiage and made it more graphical and user friendly,” comments Howard Odentz, communications manager for FieldNet, MassMutuals name for its extranet.

The company has also enhanced the sites search engine, allowed personal e-mail access and added more user customization, including quick links that allow agents to append their own favorite links to the site for fast viewing whenever they visit.

The site is available only to MassMutuals own producers, but the company plans to make it open to producers in other channels soon, including banks, says Odentz.

Another big mover among agent sites was Nationwide Financial Services, Columbus, Ohio, which increased its score from 69 to 75.

New site capabilities improved Nationwides standing, Dalbar says. Part of the improvement was a new program to educate financial professionals on fiduciary matters.

Tim Lyons, vice president of technology for Nationwide, says the company put employees in the field with its agents to find out what they wanted to see on the site.

“Engagement with the producers and active listening drove us to make these changes,” says Lyons.

Nationwide is planning to improve the functionality of its site even further, Lyons says. Although he declines to be specific, changes expected later this year will focus on putting advisors together with their customers “at the right time with the right information,” he says. “We want producers to be able to actively manage their client base with our Web site.”

A main trend Dalbar noted in the quarter was an increase in professional resources offered to agents and advisors, such as a calendar of upcoming events and links to third-party sites. A number of carriers, such as Nationwide and Ameritas Life Insurance Corp., Lincoln, Neb., added business-building ideas.

Some 11% of agent sites added such resources, Dalbar says. Around 9% of the sites introduced a news update during the quarter.

The next frontier for life insurer and annuity sites aimed at agents is to increase their use by professionals, says Louis Harvey, president of Dalbar. “Companies will have to focus on making visiting their professional site something of a routine for advisors,” he says.

Among consumer sites, Dalbar awarded its Excellent rating to Fidelity, New York Life Insurance Company, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, New York, and Prudential Financial Services, Newark, N.J.

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. moved up four slots to fifth place among consumer sites. Key improvements included the addition of cumulative total returns to Hartfords product information sections. It also added both a retirement benefits calculator and a retirement needs calculator, along with a news section linked to outside news sites.

Hartford consults with Dalbar to decide how it can attract more consumers to its site, Dickinson says.

“Basically, our goal is to complement the advisor relationship that financial intermediaries provide for us, and one of the things we looked at is the way we are educating our client base,” says Chris Dickinson, assistant vice president, distribution technology, for the Hartford. “For example, we added an explanation of the death benefit of our variable annuities, and a discussion of the value of 529 savings program.”

Other firms making strong improvements to their consumer sites include American Skandia Investment Services, Shelton, Conn. and the Transamerica unit of AEGON NV of The Hague, the Netherlands.

In the last quarter, American Skandia added personalized account performance data that allows the consumer to view changes in investment value from the previous day. Transamerica added company and product information and, for company shareholders, electronic financial document delivery.

AXA also moved up on the basis of a new market outlook section, while MetLife moved back into the top 25 after redesigning its homepage and improving navigation.

On the consumer end, Dalbar found “some disappointment and some improvement,” Harvey says.

“Companies seem to be spending time and effort on consumer education,” he notes, “but fewer consumers visit these sites for education any more.

“One thing that is surprising is that with dramatic erosion of investor confidence, neither professional nor consumer sites have been aggressive in trying to deal with the issue. Rarely does one see [the current stock market] dealt with on a Web site, and the Web site is a good place to keep people up to date.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 26, 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.