Hartford Life Insurance Co., Hartford, Conn., and Putnam Investments, Boston, have been selected by Dalbar Inc. for a third straight year as the best service providers to variable annuity contract holders.

The two companies share the top award.

Though it declares these companies the best of breed, Boston-based Dalbar declined to talk specifically about their accomplishments.

"The companies win the award because they're able to provide excellent service," said Scott Solomon, a Dalbar spokesman. This year 40 companies asked to be considered for the award, he said.

To rate their service, Dalbar anonymously buys annuities from each company. Then it periodically tests the service provided.

Companies' phone representatives are rated on both substance and style.

The quality and presentation of information sent by mail and the overall timeliness of communications to customers are also assessed, Mr. Solomon said.

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