New York Life Insurance Company remains the top consumer website offered by life insurance and annuity companies, while Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company continues to lead sites for financial professionals, according to rankings for the third quarter by Dalbar Inc.

New York Life has now headed Dalbar’s list of top consumer sites for life insurance and annuities for a year. Its chief rival, Lincoln Life, was once again in 2nd place. Guardian Investor rose to 3rd place as Fidelity Investments dropped one spot from the previous quarter to 4th place.

Dalbar, Boston, developed its rankings to recognize the growing importance of the Web in marketing and administering financial services. The company rates company sites for usability, functionality and other criteria.

One of the most improved consumer life and annuity sites in Dalbar’s estimation was by TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company. The company rose 9 spots to 5th place, raising its score from 71 to about 80 on Dalbar’s 100-point scale.

TIAA-CREF simplified access to information for consumers and reorganized the site to make it easier to use, according to Dalbar. Improved consistency in appearance and the addition of a tax-planning section also lifted the site’s score.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company climbed 5 spots, to 10th place, by improving the consistency of its consumer site’s layout, offering cascading menus and letting users sign up for e-mail updates about their policy applications.

The U.S. unit of SunLife Financial Services of Canada Inc. also rose 5 places, to the 19th spot, by simplifying account access, offering consumers improved personal profiles and account options, enabling users to allocate assets and rebalance portfolios, and allowing them to provide opinions about the site.

Dalbar also noted some firms for using their sites to publicize Life Insurance Awareness Month, which took place in September. A number of insurers placed banners on their home page promoting LIAM and offering linked information about the benefits of life insurance.

Dalbar singled out Prudential Financial Inc. for LIAM-related links offering broad information on life insurance, premium payments and investment objectives of each type of policy it sold.

New York Life offered a LIAM-related quiz and an interactive guide along with an insurance-needs calculator to elucidate the need for life insurance, while MassMutual offered a dedicated section on its site listing reasons to buy life insurance and helping consumers find financial professionals.

A few sites also sought to educate consumers about key developments affecting investors, particularly the growth of “phishing” scams and the implications of the Pension Protection Act passed earlier this year by Congress, Dalbar noted.

In phishing, con artists send an e-mail or other communication falsely claiming to be a legitimate company, tricking the user into providing personal information that the sender can then use to steal the consumer’s identity.

Dalbar named SunLife of Canada, New York Life and Western & Southern Life Insurance Company for spotlighting these scams on their Web sites.

Among companies posting information on the Pension Protection Act, Dalbar pointed to Northwestern Mutual and Pacific Life for clarifying the act and explaining its impact on retirement plans.

Looking at life and annuity Web sites for financial professionals, Dalbar showed no changes in the top 4 spots of its rankings. One newcomer, however, was Securian Advisor, the professional site of Securian Financial Group Inc., a unit of Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company. It arrived for the first time in Dalbar’s standings, landing in 5th place.

Another noteworthy change was by AXA Distributors, which rose to 6th place from 10th in the previous quarter, in part by giving advisors the option of viewing account information either through the website or through a link to DST Vision, an account management program from DST Systems Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans also rose 4 spots, to 11th place, by offering forms and applications for account maintenance, enhancing product information and providing quarterly evaluations of the market and the economy.

Dalbar also advanced AmerUs Group Company’s professional site to 24th place, from 30th in the prior quarter, after the company introduced a more informative corporate overview on its site, provided a detailed list of company contacts and made it easier for users to change their profile and preferences.

Among new trends in professional sites that Dalbar noted was the growth of interactive presentations to educate advisors about insurers’ new life and annuity products.

Dalbar named Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Company, a unit of Aegon N.V., along with Allstate Financial and Pacific Life Insurance Company for innovations in this area.

Transamerica created a Brainshark Inc. presentation about its new TransProtector universal life policy, combining audio and descriptive slides about the features and markets for the product.

Allstate launched a micro site specifically to promote its new True Term life insurance product to agents. The site includes links to both producer and consumer versions of a narrated presentation showcasing the product.

Pacific Life used Fugent Presenter from Fugent Inc., Columbus, Ohio, to create an interactive program to educate producers about its products and services. It also created a presentation specifically for broker-dealers on its Lifetime Income Access Plus benefit for its annuity products.

Dalbar also singled out several companies for their support to advisors tied to Life Insurance Awareness Month.

Among companies Dalbar named for providing exceptional Web-based tools and sales materials tied to LIAM were Securian Advisor, Principal Financial Group and Union Central Life Insurance Company.