While college savings plans are becoming more mainstream, and states are increasingly offering services via the Web, many sites have still haven’t gotten the ABCs down when it comes to offering basic features important to investors on their sites, according to a recent kasina study.

The E-biz consulting and research firm recently released "2003 Top Web Sites - 529 Plans", commenting that in order to remain competitive, these sites must meet or exceed user expectations set by their mutual fund counterparts.

One of the major flaws with 529 sites is that they are not updated on a regular basis, with only 24% providing and updating market commentary on at least a quarterly basis. Two-thirds do not update fund prices within 24 hours and 80% don’t have sections that describe what’s new on the site.

The study also found that 86% of the sites don’t have search engines, while none allow for user customization or even take advantage of video and audio technology. A mere 5% provide a financial advisor referral tool and only 3% offer content in multiple languages. And a minimal 14% allow investors to receive shareholder-specific documents via e-mail. The study suggests that 529 plans will develop their e-business strategy by continuing to leverage technology from other investment products.

The study is based on analysis of 62 different 529 plan Web sites, which were examined in the areas of branding, content, online services, usability and Web technology.

The study showed that Fidelity Investments, Schoolhouse Capital and Strong Investments, were the three companies offering the top 529 plan Web sites, listed alphabetically. These sites offer online transfers, online prospectuses, timely market commentary and a completely paperless application process.

Fidelity was recognized for its sites with the states of Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Strong was noted for its sites for Wisconsin, Oregon and Nevada, while Schoolhouses’ five sites for the state of New Mexico were recognized. Those sites are www.arrive529.com, www.collegesense.com, www.scholarsedge529.com, www.tepnm.com, and www.theeducationplan.com.

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