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New York Life And MassMutual Again Lead Dalbar Web Ratings

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New York Life remained the best-rated corporate life insurance and annuity Web site for consumers in the second quarter, while Massachusetts Mutual once again topped the list of best company sites for professionals, according to the latest rankings by Dalbar Inc., Boston.

In addition to New York Life, Lincoln Life and AXA Advisors held onto their places among top 3 sites for consumers in Dalbar’s rankings, which rate corporate life insurance and annuity sites for usability, breadth of function and general user friendliness.

A number of firms made significant improvements to their consumer sites, even though they fell short of the top positions.

Among them was Guardian Investor, a unit of Guardian Life Insurance Company, which moved from 9th place in the first quarter to 7th place on Dalbar’s consumer site list.

A new layout and color scheme, streamlined access to key information and improved e-mail functions helped boost Guardian’s ranking, according to Dalbar.

Nationwide Financial Services Inc., Columbus, Ohio, climbed 1 spot to 12th place after launching a redesigned home page, providing easier access to users who forget their log-in information and adding a financial professional locator.

AEGON subsidiary Transamerica Insurance and Investment Group rose 1 position to 18th place by, among other steps, adding market updates and making it easier to e-mail site pages to third parties.

Dalbar also singled out a number of life insurance and annuity companies that improved educational resources offered to consumers.

For instance, New York Life added a checklist for consumers to review during an appointment with their insurance agent along with “financial spring cleaning” advice to help them assess personal finances.

MassMutual provided a top-10 list of fiscal principles to use in financial planning, while Principal Financial offered an online article, “5 Steps To Getting Your Finances In Order.”

Dalbar also credited John Hancock Annuities, a subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corp., and Hartford Life Insurance Company for adding materials cautioning consumers about common mistakes made in retirement planning.

In another developing trend, some companies added wireless access to their consumer sites. For instance, USAA Life lets consumers obtain account information through a Web-enabled cell phone or personal data assistant. MassMutual launched e4 wireless, a new service that lets clients enroll in 401(k) plans and change account contributions during meetings with plan sponsors, using wireless devices provided by MassMutual.

Among company sites aimed at financial professionals, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Allstate Financial and Lincoln Life repeated as the top 3.

The biggest improvement, however, was by AIG American General, Houston, which rose from 24th to 8th place among professional sites by adding a number of significant functions. For instance, it now allows agents to see the balance and status of client accounts, view and print client statements, examine the status of in-process transactions and view a detailed premium history. Professionals can also use their wireless devices to gain access to client account information.

It also added a video library to the site so professionals can readily share educational videos with clients or other agents on-line and a QuickQuote function that allows them to ask for a quote directly from the site.

AIG also boosted its SunAmerica Web site by 3 places, to 24th, by enriching account-access capabilities and adding more convenient links and navigational menus.

Fidelity Investments, Boston, rose two places to 18th. Among other enhancements, its site now allows advisors to download client account data and other information into Quicken, Intuit’s software.

Among broad trends and developments Dalbar noted with financial professional Web sites was the growth of interactive retirement tools for use with clients.

Prudential, for instance, offers a new retirement income calculator that automatically adds a given client’s account balances and contribution rates.

Pacific Life Insurance Company introduced its own retirement calculator that gauges a client’s current savings and projects retirement expenses while helping estimate the length of time a client could expect to spend in retirement.

John Hancock Annuities created a new online seminar on retirement preparation and helped professionals to send the presentation to prospects and clients.

Other professional sites improved their usefulness by making it easier to get application forms and similar documents.

Genworth Financial, for instance, bundled required forms into a single location, while Pacific Life created a form “wizard” to help organize documents for submitting cases.

Dalbar also lauded a number of firms by making it easier for professionals to provide feedback to the sponsoring company.

Principal Financial, AXA Distributors and Allstate all added online surveys to help advisors express their views about the site and product features, Dalbar notes.

Two firms have now attained Dalbar’s Excellent rating for 13 straight quarters–New York Life among consumer sites and MassMutual among professional sites. Dalbar reserves the rating for sites scoring at least 80 on its 100-point scale.