Captain Contributor avenges workers wronged by poor benefits planning

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When disasters come knocking, Superman or Batman can help save the day. But when benefits problems are on the horizon, Captain Contributor is the superhero employees might want to turn to.

A former tax accountant turned superhero (his origin story involves toxic waste and rabid monkeys), Captain Contributor — joined by his sidekick, Betty the Benefactress — fly around helping employees by suggesting employer-sponsored benefits that can help them save money on their taxes.

Captain Contributor is a comic-book character created by benefits administration company DataPath. The company created Captain Contributor comics two years ago for their clients as a way to make open enrollment a little more fun, says Bo Armstrong, chief marketing officer at DataPath.

Armstrong says the company wanted to do something different that was also going to grab employees’ attention. For larger employers that are unable to have one-on-one conversations with workers about their benefits, the Captain Contributor comics are one way to better engage the team, he says.

“They have fun with it,” he says. “It’s a way of engaging with benefits.”

DataPath isn’t the only company trying to simplify benefits by gamifying open enrollment. More companies are creating games and tools that encourage workers to learn about their benefits.

Benefitfocus recently rolled out a seasonal benefit release inspired by the video game Fortnite. MetLife offers a conversation starter pack, a card game for employees to help them discuss insurance. Employers can use the quiz-creator website Quizzify to create games that teach employees about their healthcare.

DataPath, however, has been recognized for its unique approach. The company won two awards from the Health Information Resource Center earlier this year for Captain Contributor.

Employees can find the comics in print and video. The captain also has podcasts and social media accounts. Thomas O’Banion, marketing and communications team lead at DataPath, and the voice behind Captain Contributor, says his team wanted to come up with an interesting way to tell a story about benefits.

“If you want people to understand their benefits, you’re going to have to present it in a way that’s easy to understand, whether it’s through comic books or interactive learning,” O’Banion says.

In addition to voicing the superhero, O’Banion and his team write most of the copy for the comic books and videos. He says the team wanted to showcase scenarios where a specific benefit might come in handy.

For example, in one video titled “Captain Contributor Explains Dependent Care Assistance Plans,” the hero over hears a couple discussing how to manage a new baby and an elderly parent moving into their house. The superhero suggests they look into a DCAP account.

“Have no fear, with the dependent care assistance plan, also known as a DCAP, you can contribute up to $5,000 before taxes to help pay for things like day care, before- and after-school care, summer day camps and elderly care costs,” he says.

Armstrong says there was some initial concern that employees would not take Captain Contributor seriously. Instead, he says, the company found that the comics resonated with another very important demographic: employees’ children. When workers took the books home, their children found the illustrations alluring and spent time thumbing through the comic, he says. This encouraged their parents to engage more with the comic — and in turn their benefits, he says.

“The kids are like, ‘What are you doing with a comic book?’” Armstrong says.

It’s still unclear if gamifying benefits is making any difference. The data continues to show that employees are not well prepared for open enrollment. A recent UnitedHealthcare survey of 1,003 U.S. adults found that while the majority of employees felt prepared for open enrollment a plurality of workers (42%) say they devoted less than an hour to preparation. Another survey found that employees didn’t understand basic insurance terms.

Despite this data, O’Banion says the team hopes that using the comics will help increase employee engagement. By presenting the information in a clever format, they are hoping it will stick out in employee’s minds, he says.

“It’s kind of hard to understand,” he says. “By boiling it down, maybe people will remember it better.”

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