Dalbar Inc. once again ranked New York Life as the best consumer website by life insurance and annuity carriers in second quarter 2009, while among sites designed for financial professionals, American General edged out Lincoln Financial for the lead position.

New York Life’s consumer site has now won Dalbar’s “excellent” rating for the 21st straight quarter.

Dalbar, Boston, awards its excellent rating to sites earning 80 points or more on its 100-point grading system, which scores company websites for range of functions, ease of use and other qualities.

Among consumer-oriented sites by life and annuity companies, the most improved was that of American General Life Companies, Houston, according to Dalbar. American General, a unit of American International Group Inc., continued a strong upward move in the consumer site rankings for the second straight quarter. It rose to 9th place in Dalbar’s list, advancing 7 spots after moving up 6 places in the first quarter.

American General added an option to its Web pages that enables consumers to elect to receive premium notices via e-mail and to make payments online, Dalbar researchers noted. AG also made it easier for visitors to find themselves around its Web pages by adding multi-layered navigation menus. Extra information on taxes, including highlights of recent IRS changes, also made the site more useful, Dalbar said.

Other life and annuity companies showing solid advances among consumer-oriented home pages were Lincoln Financial and Ohio National Life Insurance Company, Cincinnati.

Lincoln Financial, the marketing name of Lincoln National Corp., Radnor, Pa. rose from 15th place in the first quarter to 10th in Dalbar’s most recent consumer site rankings after improving the usability of its Web pages, making it easier for visitors to get around, locate needed information and find help in using the site.

Ohio National advanced 5 spots in the second quarter, landing on the list of best consumer sites for the first time after advancing 12 spots in the first quarter.

Dalbar researchers praised Ohio National for modernizing its Internet face, improving usability, adding helpful drop-down menus, providing a useful site tour and making it easy for consumers to contact the company.

Among sites for financial professionals, American General rose to first place largely due to a slight drop in Lincoln Financial’s overall score, although Lincoln’s professional site retained Dalbar’s excellent rating for the 21st straight quarter. Lincoln had held the top position on the professional site list for 5 straight quarters.

Dalbar credited American General for putting professionals’ business and underwriting correspondence completely online, such as adverse-action letters, delivery requirement notices and replacement-exchange correspondence.

Despite its dip, Lincoln Financial retained Dalbar’s excellent rating for its professional site for the 21st straight quarter.

Among other outstanding sites for professionals, Dalbar singled out SunAmerica, part of AIG, for publishing online sales guides and sample prospecting letters.

Dalbar also noted significant improvements to Securian Advisor, the professional site of Securian Financial Group, part of Minnesota Mutual Companies Inc., St. Paul, Minn. Among other improvements, Securian added multimedia presentations about recent financial developments, including videos on the real estate and bond markets.

Dalbar also praised the professional home page of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, which added interest by introducing a rotating banner that draws visitors’ attention to recent developments.

Also in the second quarter, a number of companies started to use their professional sites to make it easier for producers to keep track of recent client activity, Dalbar notes.

Among them were Pacific Life Insurance Company, which introduced contract activity alerts via e-mail and on a special page of its annuity site for professionals. The site also lets advisors pick the type of client transactions they want to be notified about.

Similarly, AXA Distributors now lets advisors pick the kinds of client transactions they want to be alerted about, such as transfers of funds or partial withdrawals, Dalbar noted.

Allstate Inc., Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Union Central Life also have introduced or upgraded electronic alerts for professionals about notable client activity, such as terminated policies, pending lapses, service requests and 1035-qualified transfers, Dalbar reported.

Top 25 Life Insurance & annuity Consumer Websites Chart

Top 25 Life Insurance Annuity Financial Professional Websites