TIAA-CREF, Guardian Web Sites Move Up In Dalbar Rankings


The consumer Web sites of TIAA-CREF and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America made significant improvements in the first quarter of 2004, while Allstate, Massachusetts Mutual and Guardian also made big gains among professional sites, according to Dalbar Inc.s latest ranking of life insurance and annuity company Web sites.

Dalbar, a research firm in Boston, ranks insurer and financial services company Web sites on a variety of criteria, such as ease of use, range of functions, currency of content and consistency of appearance.

There was a slight reshuffling of company names on Dalbar’s most recent top-40 list. However, Fidelity retained its lead among consumer sites, while the Hartford kept its No. 1 position among sites designed for financial professionals.

Fidelity’s consumer site maintained its Excellent designation for the 13th straight quarter, even though its score fell by about 1 point to 86.8.

Also among consumer-oriented sites, TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company, New York, advanced from 7th to 3rd place, displacing Thrivent Financial by improving planning tools and investment education, including an investment guide for women and a retirement plan evaluation tool.

One of the most substantial improvements on Dalbar’s rankings was by Guardian Life, which advanced from 28th to 13th with its recent relaunch of a streamlined and reorganized consumer site. At the same time the company’s professional site soared to 13th place from 26th.

Dalbar says the consumer site offers improved financial information about the company itself, along with extensive help in setting up a financial plan for those caring for elderly parents or disabled family members. Guardian also won points for adding financial news and the ability to provide financial statements online.

The new consumer site features enhanced navigation features, online prospectuses and annual reports, and e-mail alerts to clients to let them know when account data is available, notes Anne Hackett, a spokeswoman for Dalbar.

Dennis Callahan, executive vice president and chief information officer of Guardian, says the company improved its Web site as part of a concerted effort to advance its business through technology. The redesign was spearheaded by an e-business steering committee instituted under Callahans leadership in 2001.

The improvements to the site are characterized by higher usability, better use of open space, more direct links to areas that consumers want to access and more emphasis on self service, says Callahan.

Guardian also improved its professional sites, easing agents’ access to client accounts and allowing them to assign client account access to higher-level managers. This assures that customers will continue to be covered when their regular agents are away, says Michael ODea, manager of e-business programs for Guardian.

Other professional sites also jumped several spots in Dalbar’s rankings.

Allstates Accessallstate.com advisor site moved up to 4th place from 8th by offering advisors a personalized homepage and navigation bar, providing broad client account information and an extensive library of forms, according to Dalbar.

Allstate also now allows advisors to complete some pending policy requirements online. They can get access to prefilled forms containing existing information on a given client, with a field to enter new information and the ability to submit an application to Allstate underwriters.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company gave its agents new tools for doing business and keeping track of pending business, helping move it up to 5th place from 12th. MassMutual also added a new search engine and boosted the speed of the site.

Other professional sites spotlighted by Dalbar included:

–Safeco Financial, which added a new IRA sales guide.

–Manulife Financial Corp., Toronto, which launched a new premium financing sales tool kit. (Premium financing enables wealthy clients to pay universal life insurance premiums without having to liquidate assets.)

–Phoenix Wealth Management, a unit of Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Company, Hartford, provides online help to producers in assisting clients in identifying hidden assets, such as overlooked brokerage accounts.

A number of firms introduced educational tools designed to support financial professionals in expanding their business for life insurance, 401(k)s and other products, Dalbar notes.

Dalbar added a new criterion in the quarter, behavior-centric design, which measures the ability of the site to address the consumer’s or professional’s interests, such as retrieving activity reports and completing transactions.

The behavior-centric scores caused almost every company to drop slightly, says Dalbar’s Hackett.

However, the new standard did not seem to affect overall rankings, Hackett adds.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 11, 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.