Allstate And Fidelity Retain Leads In Dalbar Web Site Rankings

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Allstate Financial, Northbrook, Ill., remained at the top of Dalbar Inc.s list of leading life insurance and annuity company Web sites for financial professionals, according to the latest quarterly rankings by Dalbar, a Boston research firm that grades financial Web sites.

Among consumer-oriented sites, Fidelity Investments, Boston, remained the top site in the first quarter of 2003, a spot it has now held for eight straight quarters, says Dalbar.

Among professional sites, Fidelity had tied for second place with Hartford Life Insurance Company in the fourth quarter 2002, but fell to third place by a small margin in the first quarter 2003, with an overall score of 82 out of 100 on Dalbars scale, compared to Hartfords 85.

Dalbar scores Web sites on a complex grid of measures that includes such criteria as variety of helpful functions available on the site, usability, currency of content and consistency of appearance.

Allstate, which arrived on Dalbars list of top professional sites for the first time last quarter, continued to improve in such areas as product information, Dalbar notes. For some variable annuities, for instance, it added third-party ratings for subaccounts. The company raised its overall score from 88 to 90.

Jefferson Pilot, Greensboro, N.C., moved from 11th to seventh place by improving its advisor educational materials and offering online classes and exams, Dalbar says. The company also introduced an online illustration system that producers can use when meeting with clients.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., rose one spot to ninth place by offering personalized greetings to advisors at log-in and showing daily share values for variable life and annuity subaccounts.

Among professional sites overall, more carriers are allowing agents and advisors to personalize their own preferences, Dalbar observes.

For instance, Nationwide Financial, Columbus, Ohio, allows advisors to go directly to its online service center without logging on each time they visit. GE Financial now allows professionals to customize how they receive investment performance data and subaccount updates, Dalbar says.

Other carriers added tools to help agents manage existing clients. For instance, Dalbar points out, Nationwide added a system to alert advisors when annuity subaccounts gained or lost value by a specified percentage. Another new tool allows Nationwide agents to generate custom-made reports by gathering information from all company lines that a client owns.

Hartford Life improved its second-place score from 81 to 85 in part by enhancing annuity contract access and making it easy for producers to get withdrawal quotes for surrendered annuities, choose a level of tax withholding or view surrender charges, Dalbar observes.

Fourth-place Pacific Life Insurance Company, Newport Beach, Calif., added a resource to allow producers to identify sales opportunities for IRAs, 529 college savings plans and other products. Pacific Life is the only carrier that has eight straight quarters with a designation of “excellent,” meaning it achieved a score of 80 or better on Dalbars 100-point scale, the research firm notes.

Dalbar also lauded Travelers Life & Annuity, Hartford, for adding a system enabling producers to tailor sales presentations and Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia, for adding producer support for deferred-compensation products.

The most frequent improvement Dalbar observed among professional sites was in investor education, where almost 8% of firms added new tutorial functions. Five percent added a news section, the next most common new feature.

Among sites aimed at consumers, Dalbar awarded first and second place to Fidelity and New York Life, respectively–the same spots they held the previous quarter.

AXA Advisors L.L.C., a unit of AXA S.A., Paris, jumped to 17th place from 21st on the strength of improved functionality, including a new financial glossary.

USAA Life, San Antonio, Texas, climbed from 26th to 19th place, after falling out of the top 25 consumer sites last year. The company added ratings from companies such as Moodys and Standard & Poors, offered an online financial assessment and allowed users to arrange to meet with a financial planner.

MONY moved into the top 25 consumer sites, from 27th place, by allowing investors to view prospectuses on line, obtain daily share values for subaccounts and find returns for financial products over a variety of time periods.

Overall, Dalbar faulted life insurance and annuity sites for consumers for making relatively few improvements to their sites in the first quarter.

However, eight insurance sites attained Dalbars excellent rating in the first quarter of 2003, up from seven the previous quarter.

The most frequent consumer site improvement was the addition of access to other resources, made by about 8% of firms. Another frequent improvement was the addition of planning tools and calculators, made by 7%.

About 5% offered new tax help. Hartford Life, for instance, started a new tax center that allows users to obtain tax forms and find answers to frequently asked tax questions.

AXA also added a link to allow consumers to download TurboTax software, then import their AXA 1099 information directly into that program.

Hartford Life added a checklist to help users inventory household possessions, and Nationwide helped policyholders review their life insurance.

The newest addition to the excellent category was Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Appleton, Wis., created last year by a merger of the Aid Association for Lutherans and the Lutheran Brotherhood. The company rose four places to the number four consumer Web site, after rising nine places last year.

Dalbar researchers awarded Thrivents consumer site 16 points out of a possible 25 for usability, up from 14 points in fourth quarter 2002.

On functionality, the site scored 28 out of 35, up from 25 the previous quarter.

Site load speeds were little changed from the previous quarter, averaging about 19 seconds for consumer sites and 11 seconds for professional sites, using a 56k modem, Dalbar found.


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