Fidelity, Pacific Life Still Tops In Insurance Web Sites, Dalbar Says

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Fidelity Investments, Boston, retained its place at the top of the top 25 consumer Web sites during the third quarter of 2002 among life insurance and annuity companies and held onto second place among sites for agents and financial professionals, reports Dalbar Inc., the Boston research firm.

Pacific Life Insurance Company, Newport Beach, Calif., remained the top-ranked professional site and has now won Dalbars Excellent rating for six straight quarters. That rating is reserved for life/annuity companies scoring 80 or better on Dalbars scale of 100, which scores sites on such qualities as functionality, usability and currency of content. Dalbar issues rankings of financial sites each quarter.

Among consumer-oriented sites by life insurance/annuity companies, Fidelity scored 92 for the second straight quarter, well ahead of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, New York; Prudential Financial, Newark, N.J.; and New York Life, all of which tied for second place with a score of 82.

Fidelitys consumer site earned Dalbars Excellent rating for the seventh straight quarter.

It scored especially well for functions available on the site, such as client account information, product information and investor education. Site functionality is Dalbars most important evaluation measure, counting for up to 35 points.

Dalbar gave Fidelitys consumer site a score of 33 for functions, six points above both New York Life and TIAA-CREF.

A number of sites showed notable improvements since Dalbars last ranking.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Minneapolis, landed in the top 25 for the first time, coming in at 17.

“Thrivent Financials site offers easily accessible information as well as step-by-step planning and retirement information,” observes Dalbar.

State Farm, Bloomington, Ill., leaped into eighth place from 19th on the strength of improved content and navigation features such as news and stock quotes. Dalbar also notes improved product information on the site.

A State Farm spokeswoman says some improvements stemmed from what the company calls its usability laboratory. Researchers in the lab test reactions to its Web site by actual consumers as well as by subjects from within the company itself, she explains.

Other life/annuity companies making strong improvements to their consumer sites were the Transamerica unit of AEGON NV of the Hague, the Netherlands, which rose to fifth place from ninth; Zurich Life, Schaumburg, Ill., which rose to 10th place from 12th; Pacific Life, which moved from 16th to 12th, and Minnesota Life, which reached the top 25 for the first time, landing at 21.

The most common consumer site improvement during the third quarter was the addition of market outlooks, apparently in response to investors concerns about the recent vagaries of the stock market, Dalbar reports.

Some sites were also enhanced by adding links to outside sources such as industry publications, news sites, rating agencies and tax information, Dalbar reports.

For instance, the MONY Group, New York, now provides links to the sites of companies managing various subaccounts for its annuity products.

New York Life added links to various financial institutions, and Pacific Life appended links to search engines, financial news, ratings and tax information.

In general among consumer sites, retirement planning advice is appearing more and more, Dalbar notes.

For example, during the third quarter Principal Financial Group, ING, Nationwide Financial and New York Life all added a variety of resources and advice aimed at helping individuals plan their retirement.

Among sites aimed at agents and other financial professionals, Dalbar reports a strong advance by American Skandia Life Assurance Corp., Shelton, Conn.

The company ended up in third place in the latest survey, up from ninth in the second quarter, on the strength of a newly redesigned site.

Among other things, American Skandia added daily variable annuity values, including the change in value from the previous day.

Lori Allen, vice president of e-marketing for American Skandia, says her company made its professional site much easier to navigate, with a more organized and clearer home page and overall structure.

“We upgraded the amount and quality of content and graphics and interactive calculators,” she says. “We organized it around a needs- based concept rather than a product-based one. For instance, we gave the agents ideas about attracting, servicing and selling to clients.”

The company also added more frequent market commentary from its own experts, some of which are available in audio, Allen notes.

Big jumps in the rankings were also achieved by Jefferson Pilot Financial, Greensboro, N.C., which rose six places to 10th; Allmerica Financial Corp., Worcester, Mass., which rose to 18 from 30; and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, which climbed five spots to 24.

Typical professional site improvements included the addition of market outlooks, client account-access capabilities and the incorporation of links to useful third-party sites, such as news, search engines and rating services.

About 57% of professional sites now offer market outlooks, notes Dalbar, while 81% offer client account information and around 84% provide access to additional resources, Dalbar reports.

For the first time in the third quarter, Dalbar also measured sites loading speeds.

The median load speed for life insurance and annuity consumer sites was 17 seconds, compared to just over 14 seconds for professional sites. Mutual funds sites for consumers averaged 14.85 seconds, and mutual fund professional sites averaged 14.1 seconds, Dalbar reports.

One unspecified life site reportedly took 82 seconds to load.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 16, 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.