Allstate, Fidelity Stand Out Among Web Sites: Dalbar

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In its very first appearance on Dalbar Inc.s rankings of life and annuity Web sites for financial professionals, Allstate Corp. became the top-ranked site, while among consumer-oriented sites, seven companies achieved Dalbars highest rating.

Dalbar, a Boston research firm, evaluates financial Web sites on various factors ranging from functionality to usefulness, timeliness and consistency of content.

Allstate Financial, in Northbrook, Ill., leapt into the number one spot among sites for financial professionals by providing agents with detailed client profiles and account information, and the ability to execute transactions for clients.

“The site also contains a well-organized database of its products, including direct links to firms that manage the various subaccounts of the variable products,” Dalbar says.

Also among professional sites, Hartford Life jumped from eighth place to second by substantially increasing the amount of information available on the site. The site also now allows advisors to view and calculate annuity contract values.

Travelers Life and Annuity, New York, rose from 17th to 14th place by, among other things, allowing advisors to view client account options and expanding the availability of financial planning tools.

Ameritas Group, Lincoln, Neb., made its debut among Dalbars top professional sites, arriving in 17th place. Dalbar researchers gave the insurer high marks for providing agents with extensive product and subaccount information, and offering a variety of sales tools.

Farmers Insurance Group, Simi Valley, Calif., also joined the list of ranked professional sites for the first time during the final quarter, arriving in 21st place. Its site revolves around a Financial Blueprint that provides advisors with suggestions for short- and long-term care coverage.

Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, rose from 24th place to 21st during the fourth quarter. Dalbar cited the companys streamlined home page and a new table of content featuring drop-down menus.

Manulife USA, Boston, returned to the top 25 agent sites at year-end, after falling to 29th place in the third quarter, by offering average annual returns for subaccounts and a market outlook.

Among professional sites as a whole, Dalbar observes, new or improved market outlooks were the most common site enhancements during the fourth quarter, with 7% of sites adding this feature. At year-end, about 64% of financial advisor sites were offering outlooks, Dalbar observes.

Six percent of sites added news and third-party links during the quarter, bringing to almost 85% the number of professional sites offering such features.

Another 6% added or expanded advisor education during the quarter, while 6% also added or improved client account access. Now 87% of sites offer education and account information, Dalbar reports.

Four professional sites earned an Excellent rating in the quarter, up from two in the third quarter.

Dalbar assigns its Excellent rating to sites scoring 80 points or more on its rating scale, out of a possible 100.

In its rankings of life and annuity Web sites designed for consumers, Dalbar awarded its Excellent rating to seven insurers in the fourth quarter, up from four in the previous quarter.

Fidelity Investments, Boston, maintained its top-ranked spot, raising its score from 92 to 93.

This marked the eighth straight quarter that Dalbar gave Fidelity its Excellent rating.

Other top-ranked consumer sites were New York Life, whose score rose from 82 to 90; TIAA-CREF, which rose from 82 to 84; Hartford Life, rising from 77 to 83 and from fifth place to fourth; Prudential Financial, holding steady at 82; and Transamerica and GE Financial, both tying for the sixth spot at 81, up from 77.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Appleton, Wis., a company created last year by a merger of the Aid Association for Lutherans and the Lutheran Brotherhood, rose nine places to the number eight spot. The rise was largely due to improvements in users ability to personalize the Thrivent site to their own needs, Dalbar reports.

Thrivent also added new investor education features, such as a Social Security calculator that provides users with a detailed explanation of results, Dalbar observes.

Principal Financial rose eight ranks to the 11th spot in consumer site rankings by offering answers to frequently asked questions about taxes and enhancing its help features, Dalbar says.

In general, consumer sites progressed by developing more personalization for users, Dalbar says. About 10% of sites added more personalized features, such as message boards and portfolio trackers, it notes.

Seven percent also improved account access by adding such functions as transaction histories and statement viewing, according to Dalbar.

By the end of the fourth quarter, all consumer sites were offering e-mail capabilities, including newsletters and statement notices, Dalbar notes. This was up from around 94.5% of sites in the third quarter.

Five percent of sites also added news, from press releases to headlines, to keep the user up to date, Dalbar says.

Dalbar also looked at site loading speeds, finding that the average speed for consumer life/annuity sites actually increased from about 17 seconds to almost 19 seconds since the third quarter.

Load speeds for professional sites fell during that time, from about 14 seconds to around 11 seconds, Dalbar reports.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 3, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.