Fidelity, Hartford Retain Leads In Dalbar Web Standings

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Dalbar Inc.s Web site ratings of life insurance and annuity carriers were largely unchanged during the fourth-quarter 2003, but a few new names slipped into the top 10 list in both rated categories.

Dalbar, a research firm in Boston, ranks Web sites aimed at both consumers and financial advisors, using criteria such as ease of use, diversity of functions and currency of content available on each site.

The company expanded its list of rated sites to 40, from 25 in its earlier surveys.

Among consumer-oriented life and annuity sites, Fidelity Investments remained in first place. Its score of 88 was 9 points higher than 2nd ranked New York Life. Fidelity now has achieved Dalbars “Excellent” rating for 12 straight quarters.

A number of sites showed notable improvements, Dalbar noted.

For instance, Lincoln Life gained 4 spots in the consumer site rankings, finishing 4th. Among reasons Dalbar cited for the companys surge: Lincolns introduction of an online learning center that recommends books on retirement and investing to consumers and provides links to other informative financial Web sites.

MetLife advanced one place to 9th after a number of major changes to its sites. For instance, it introduced intuitive navigation features that enable the visitor to find desired information easily.

Axa Advisors jumped 8 places into the 10th spot by making it easier for visitors to get their personal account information. Axa also added downloadable forms and applications and offered an e-mail service to answer consumers questions.

SunLife of Canada gained 5 spots to 18th place with a variety of changes, including a new calculator that helps users weigh the financial advantages of tax-deferred over non-tax-deferred investments.

One of the growing consumer site trends Dalbar noted in the quarter was an increasing emphasis on niche markets.

“For the 2nd straight quarter, we see companies increasingly aware that the profile of the American investor is constantly changing, and they need to target groups that have historically been excluded from marketing plans,” says Csilla von Csiky, managing director of Dalbar.

New York Life, for instance, launched a new Vietnamese area to its Web site, including an agent-recruitment section aimed at Vietnamese Americans.

MassMutual enhanced a section of its site aimed at women, offering information to fit the needs of both novice and advanced women investors.

Additionally, Nationwide Financial introduced a new group of financial education tools aimed at the Latino market.

Dalbar also noted improved financial education resources for consumers at several other Web sites.

ING, for instance, features new information aimed at increasing consumers use of financial planners.

In the same vein, New York Life offers a suggested reading list of financial books, tied into www.Amazon.com. It also added a 72(t) calculator, to help consumers take advantage of a recent IRS rule allowing tax-free early retirement account withdrawals.

Turning to sites aimed at financial professionals, Dalbar once again placed the Hartford Financial Services Group in first place, awarding it an “Excellent” rating for the 5th straight quarter.

Lincoln Life, one of the most improved consumer sites, also showed the most improvement among sites for professionals, rising to 2nd place from 11th in the 3rd quarter.

Among Lincolns enhancements were: more client account information and the capability for financial advisors to buy variable annuities online on behalf of clients.

Lincoln also added a football-themed playbook for producers with extensive sales ideas and advice.

MainStay Annuities, another newcomer to the top 5 sites for financial professionals, improved its online assistance with a retirement planner, a 72(t) distribution tool and a quick link to MainStays consumer site.

Several other firms tried to make their professional sites more useful to financial advisors.

For instance, Jefferson Pilot introduced an e-mail service enabling producers to send personalized newsletters, greeting cards and packaged sales promotions to clients and prospects.

Another trend Dalbar noted during the latest quarter: an increase in the use of Web-based tools to help advisors sell charitable gift services.

Among wealth preservation and transfer solutions introduced to its site by Lincoln Life, for instance, was a guide to charitable gift planning and tax strategies.

Thrivent Financial launched a campaign to remind advisors to incorporate life insurance into a charitable giving plan.

Other professional Web site improvements singled out by Dalbar:

Travelers Life and Annuity provided a new online system to enable advisors to order product information and sales kits.

Manulife added information on setting up credit shelter trusts.

Ameritas added a new section explaining business, retirement and wealth planning strategies.

Dalbar reports that the most frequent new feature it found on professional sites was the addition of tracking services.

Tracking services offer the financial professional a means to follow up on transfers, transactions, confirmations and queries they have filed through a carriers Web site.

Dalbar notes 76% of life and annuity professional sites now offer such tracking services, up from 67% in the previous quarter.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, February 13, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.