A recent survey into the quality of managing agents' websites shows that some are not making the most of the opportunities that the web offers

BRIT, ACE AND RJ Kiln lead the pack in online communications, according to a survey conducted by web developer The Driver Is. The survey rated the websites of ten of the largest managing agents by capacity at Lloyd's, addressing key information requirements, functionality and ease of use for investors, brokers, customers and the general public.The Driver Is chief executive Colin Farrow says: "The Lloyd's insurance market is notorious for its slow adoption of new technology."This was an interesting way to measure the commitment and enthusiasm of the market's top agents to use the web as a viable communications tool."Top scorer was Brit Syndicates, with a total score of 82 out of a possible 100, followed by Ace Underwriting (69) and RJ Kiln & Co (63).St Paul Syndicate Manage-ment finished in last place with a mere 29 points.The survey rated the websites of Brit, Ace, RJ Kiln, Wellington, Hiscox, Amlin, Beazley, Catlin, Cox and St Paul against content and design criteria, covering corporate information, careers, investor relations, media relations, site services, access, technical assets, speed and design.RJ Kiln and Brit outperformed their peers on the crucial investor services section, both scoring an impressive 19 points out of a possible 21.This section awarded points for providing company information such as current and archived financial reports and accounts, key dates on the financial calendar, shareholder communications (such as chairman's annual meeting statement) and voting patterns, regulatory announcements, and management and operational structures.It also awarded points for investor relations contact details and key advisers.

Current vacanciesSurprisingly for an industry where people are its greatest asset, very few companies in the survey use the web for recruitment purposes.The HR section of the survey looked at whether current vacancies are listed, whether potential candidates can apply online, and whether there are sections dedicated to graduates and experienced hires.It also tested the efficiency of email alerts and awarded points for listing HR contacts. Brit scored top, with 14 points out of a possible 15, while the rest of the pack scored less that half the possible points.Amlin Underwriting and Beazley were the worst performers, scoring no points.The site services section was an important indicator of overall performance.This section measured the site's logistical information: head office contacts, function contacts (media, investor relations and HR contacts), office locations and site maps, feedback and help mechanisms, external links, and disclaimers and privacy policies.Brit scored 14 out of 16 points and was closely followed by Ace and RJ Kiln on 13 points each, while Wellington, Amlin, Beazley and Catlin scored just half the possible points.The survey's media section results also correlated directly with overall performance, with Brit, Ace and RJ Kiln ahead of the rest. This section examined the availability of media releases, media alerts, images and PR contacts.Farrow comments: "It is clear that the companies who performed well have made a conscious decision to use the web as a key communications tool."They take seriously the importance of communicating openly and transparently with their stakeholders and see the web as a powerful and cost effective way of achieving this."On the flipside, those companies that did not perform well overall scored consistently low marks across all sectors indicating a lack of resource committed to using the web for communicating current information."

Star performersDespite the high scores of the sector's star performers Brit, Ace and RJ Kiln, overall the Lloyd's sample group lagged behind other financial services companies.Averaging a score of 53 out of 100, the group was outperformed by life assurance companies (59 out of 100), the wider insurance sector (60 out of 100) and banks (65 out of 100).- The survey was independently designed and conducted by web design company The Driver Is in January 2004.The Driver Is develops corporate web resources and intranet applications for larger corporates in the FTSE100 and FTSE250, often working in partnership with other agencies. Among its clients are AMEC, Smith & Nephew and Group 4. It has been doing this since 1995 when its managing director Colin Farrow first approached FTSE250 companies to determine their response to the emergence of the internet.At that time, Farrow found that most had no understanding of the web and its potential as a communications tool. Just nine years later, most of those companies are making a commitment to communicating via the web equal to that in older media, but with variable success.In 2002 Farrow decided to break through the fog of subjective surveys and awards to create the UK Corporate Web Rankings - the first fully objective appraisal of how effectively larger corporates were addressing their audiences online."Unlike other surveys, we were not interested in looking at aesthetics or technology per se," Farrow says. "Our interest was to look at how well those companies did in hitting the key communications targets for each of their key audiences - investors, customers, prospective employees and the media."Farrow describes his findings as variable: "It's time for corporate web publishers to focus on the information requirements of their users. Understand who they are, and what they want from your website. Pretty pictures and clever content management systems are fine, but are you delivering information of interest and value?"- Colin Farrow can be contacted at cfarrow@thedriveris.com.

HOW LLOYD'S SCOREDLloyds.com is a highly functional, easy to use and modern web site, according to the survey conducted by The Driver Is. Scoring a total of 39 points out of a possible 49 on the technical sections of the survey, Lloyds.com was found to be highly accessible (4 out of 4) and speedy (5 out of 5) with excellent site services (15 out of 16) and a contemporary design (7 out of 10).Lloyds.com was not scored against all criteria of the survey. Corporate, careers, media and investor sections were omitted due to the fact that it is a market, rather than a company, and cannot be fairly assessed on company-based criteria.