Dalbar Inc.’s list of top life insurance and annuity websites saw a major shake-up in the first quarter of 2008, with nearly all sites changing places in the standings after Dalbar overhauled its rating system.
Most of the changes in the rankings were due to adjustments to the scoring method to take into account what site visitors actually want to do when they visit an insurance or annuity site, according to Dalbar.
Dalbar, a research firm in Boston, says it redesigned its WebMonitor evaluation system to give more emphasis to practical features online users of financial services and financial professionals care about most. As a result, scores dropped across the board, even for companies at the top of the list.
The changes “most definitely impacted the rankings,” says Kathleen Whalen, managing director of Dalbar. “We’re giving a lot more emphasis to behavior-centric support, ensuring that people can do online what they used to do offline.”
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New York Life Insurance Company remained as the top website for consumers by life and annuity carriers in the first quarter, while Lincoln Life advanced 2 places to land at the head of the list of sites for industry professionals.
In the consumer standings, 23 of 25 firms moved up or down, while 21 of 25 firms on the professional site list changed places. Even for those that held their positions or advanced on the list, scores declined under the revamped ratings, compared to the final quarter of 2007.
New York Life held on to its number 1 position among consumer Web sites, even though its overall score dropped from 89.6 in 4Q 2007 to 81.59 in 1Q 2008. It was the only consumer site to receive Dalbar’s “excellent” rating in the quarter, which is given to sites earning at least 80 on its 100-point rating system.
Dalbar’s evaluators commended the site on a number of features, such as allowing users to see a unified view of accounts they hold with the company, from life insurance to mutual funds. The site also won points for its use of drop-down and fly-out menus to facilitate users’ access to accounts and to detailed policy information.
NYL’s site also offers customers a virtual service center that helps them manage their accounts, make address changes, request loans, and withdraw and transfer funds, Dalbar noted.
Pacific Life rose 4 spots to second place in the consumer rankings with a number of improvements, including downloadable PDF product guides and a site area where users can find out about the investment performance of specific products.
AXA Advisors dropped from second to third place as its score fell from 82.6 to 73.5. It lost points for inconsistency of appearance among some of its Web pages, according to Dalbar. Still, its evaluators gave AXA high marks for the site’s usability, including new links to IRA education materials.
Under Dalbar’s scoring system, usability includes the ease of getting around a site and finding key information.
Dalbar also singled out a new website from parent company AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, a unit of AXA S.A., Paris, which links to the Web addresses of AXA Advisors and other company subsidiaries. AXA Equitable also added interest by incorporating its “800 pound gorilla” campaign into its annuity site, Dalbar notes.
Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. advanced 5 places to the 4th spot on the consumer list, largely by improving its site’s functionality, a label Dalbar uses to cover the range of practical activities, tools and tasks available to the site visitor.