Surfing the Social Wave

Surfing the Social Wave

allstatelogoScores of people rush home from work or school to check their MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages. In the meantime, their retirement planning either sits dormant in the back of a file cabinet or hasn’t even been considered. Desirée Rogers, the recently appointed president of social networking for Allstate Financial, is planning to integrate the two ideas and give Allstate customers an opportunity to create an interactive network where they can talk about their financial needs.

Rogers, the former director of the Illinois Lottery, envisions a forum where users can give each other feedback, while also providing professional advice.

“Our research has shown that middle-market customers get their financial advice from family, friends, and people like them,” Rogers says. “People don’t run around talking about their retirement, but more and more people are worried about their future. As people hop from job to job and as companies make decisions about limited and defined benefit programs, people are having to craft and put together their retirement for the future.”

Rogers credits her position at the Illinois Lottery, where she led a reinvention effort which culminated in the launch of the Mega Millions multi-state game, with helping her to develop an ability to create different choices based on what people liked. “To me, that position provided an opportunity to work on my creativity, while at the same time ensuring that it fit within the confines of the business, extended the brand, and delivered to the customer.”

“Above and beyond all, Desirée is a leader,” says Jim Hohmann, president and CEO of Northbrook-based Allstate Financial. “She is someone who, once you get to know her, you’re glad you do.”

As the first female African American president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas (now divisions of Integrys Energy Group) Rogers led her department in encouraging customers to think about tips to reduce energy costs. “I’d like to do the same on the retirement side,” says Rogers, who hopes to have a pilot Website functional by years end. “How can we guide, counsel, and educate the customer, and make this something they don’t have to worry about, so much so they can have the life they want to have?”

Indeed, on the heals of a survey by Radio One Inc., which reports that the digital divide between white and black people has faded, Allstates’ endeavor comes at an opportune time. The study also finds that among “digital networkers,” the majority of who are in their 20s, 45% are already saving for retirement, and 72% of black people want to learn more about how to invest. Fifty percent believe banks and other financial institutions do not understand their needs.

According to the Ariel-Schwab 2007 Black Investor’s Survey, the overall value of savings and investments is an average (median) of $48,000 for black people and $100,000 for white people.

“For African American customers, one of the things we see is that many times we don’t prepare the way