Allstate, Fidelity Retain Top Spots For Best Web Sites: Dalbar

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Fidelity Investments, Boston, kept its long-standing lead among life insurance and annuity Web sites designed for consumers, says Dalbar Inc., in a report covering the second quarter of 2003.

On the producer side, Allstate Financial, Northbrook, Ill., remained the best life insurance and annuity Web site for financial professionals, according to Dalbar, a Boston research firm that rates financial Web sites on a variety of quality measures.

Standings in the rankings held unusually steady in the quarter. Only nine of the top 25 consumer sites moved upwards in the rankings, compared to 14 in the same period last year.

Among financial professional sites, seven companies advanced, compared to 14 last year.

The unusual stability of the rankings is probably more a result of the nations economic slowdown than anything else, suggests Dalbar managing director Csilla Von Csiky.

“Budget constraints on revamping company sites would account for the leveling off,” Von Csiky observes.

Nevertheless, comparisons to last year did show a number of notable improvements for many companies.

For instance, eight consumer sites earned Dalbars rating of “excellent,” which is reserved for those scoring at least 80 points out of 100 on its rating system. Only four rated excellent during the second quarter of 2002.

Dalbar ranks sites on a number of factors, such as ease of use, range of functions available, up-to-date information and consistency of content and appearance.

Among the strongest improvements in consumer sites was USAA Life Company, San Antonio, which sells insurance and retirement plans to government employees.

USAAs consumer site soared from 19th place in the first quarter to the 10th spot by improving the ability of the consumer to personalize the site and by adding new account services, Dalbar says. USAA was not even among the top 25 a year earlier.

“The site also offers individuals online forms with prefilled information,” Dalbar notes in its report on the rankings. This information is added to the form from facts supplied by the user at log in.

Nationwide Financials consumer site jumped from 19th place in the first quarter (where it had been tied with USAA) to number 11. Its site enhancements included more personalization and improved consistency in users experience with the site, Dalbar says.

Nationwide also now lets users view and change their financial profiles online and keep track of the performance of Nationwide products they have purchased. In addition, the company made it easier for consumers to move around the site.

Dalbar awarded Fidelity an “excellent” designation to its consumer site for the ninth straight quarter.

Dalbar also lauded USAA and Safeco Corp., Seattle, for providing special services to military customers on active duty during the recent war in Iraq.

Several carriers introduced customized educational materials to help clients plan their retirement, Dalbar notes.

“Most of the retirement education programs launched in the second quarter 2003 sought to improve plan participants retirement savvy by providing them with personalized information that would help them to create a customized plan,” says Dalbar.

Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, Iowa, offered a new electronic signature feature for sponsors of a 401(k) plan. Clients can amend documents online and approve the changes via e-signature, notes Dalbar.

The most frequent new features for consumer-oriented sites were account information and services, personalization capabilities, market outlooks and access to additional sources, such as industry organization, Dalbar reports.

With the addition of Nationwide, Dalbar rated five financial professional sites as excellent, up from four in the first quarter.

Allstate, which was not even on Dalbars list of professional Web sites for most of 2002, remained at the top of the list for the third straight quarter.

Second-ranked Hartford Financial Services Group improved to 88 points out of 100 from 70 a year earlier. It had fallen to 65 in the first quarter of 2003.

In the second quarter a year ago, Nationwides professional site had placed fourth, with a 75 score. Although its score held in the first quarter of 2003, it fell to ninth place.

It made a strong recovery in the second quarter of 2003, improving to 87.

Dalbar credits Nationwide for better product information and the addition of daily share values for subaccounts, among other improvements.

Other significantly changed professional sites included Travelers, a unit of Citigroup, New York, which advanced two spots to 10th place since the prior quarter. It had placed 21st a year earlier.

Travelers added a number of features in the latest quarter, such as allowing producers to view extensive information on annuity clients.

Manulife jumped into the top 25 professional sites for the first time, landing at 20 from 29 in the previous quarter.

It did so largely on the strength of improved producer education, including downloadable insurance illustration software and sales ideas tied to specific client objectives, Dalbar says.

Dalbar also singled out a number of other firms:

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., introduced an Online University for registered reps.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Minneapolis, launched an estate cost calculator that advisors can download to work with clients who need estate protection.

Safeco now allows advisors to print the internal rate of return for financial products, to help clients evaluate life insurance returns over other investment options.

The Hartford now allows its producers to view their clients statements online.

AmerUs Life, Des Moines, added online product information and agent production reports.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 8, 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.