A study of life insurer Web sites concludes most are below average in their respect for customers.

The Customer Respect Group, Ipswich, Mass., measures 50 life insurer sites each quarter on a number of benchmarks analyzing a customer’s experience with the site. It gauges the quality of companies’ on-line presence based on its customer respect index, which scores sites on such factors as usability, simplicity, ease of communication and respect for privacy.

The overall CRI score for the life insurance industry in the fourth quarter was 5.1 on a 10-point scale, significantly lower than the cross-industry average for all sites CRG evaluated in 2006 at 5.8.

This rating showed a slight drop from the organization’s third quarter report for the life insurance industry.

CRG faulted many insurer sites for failing to make it easy for consumers to get fast answers to their specific questions. Quite a few also fell short on the element of trust, because companies often shared personal information submitted by consumers with other divisions of the same company without the consumer’s knowledge.

CRG did give good ratings to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Pacific Life, Mutual of Omaha, Western-Southern Life Insurance Company, Nationwide Life, New York Life, Northwestern Mutual and Western Reserve Life Assurance of Ohio.

Its highest-rated company for trust was Penn Mutual. For online communications, Western-Southern Life Insurance Company topped the list; for site simplicity, New York Life was top-rated; and in attitude, which covers accessibility and other factors, IDS Life came out on top.

The rating for just one company reached CRG’s Excellent Customer Respect standard: Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, which was also the most improved site on the group’s list.