And The Winners Are … The Payments Academy Awards

“Life,” the main character in a multiple Academy Award-winning picture once observed, “is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Lucky for all of us, the Academy Awards is almost nothing at all like real life — and as a result, we all have a pretty good idea of what we are going to get Sunday night. Some very beautiful evening gowns, some wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen, some gentle Jimmy Kimmel jokes, a few pointedly political acceptance speeches and lots and lots of moms and dads finally getting the recognition they deserve. Some years are better than others — we all remember the national tragedy that was the Anne Hathaway/James Franco experiment of 2011 — but there is a certain lovely consistency to the award show that forces Americans to tune in en masse each year — whether they’ve seen all, some or none of the movies in competition.

Because at some point, watching the competition play out in real time among beautiful people in formal wear is the point. They may have done away with saying, “And the winner is” in favor of “And the Academy Award goes to” — but it’s all about watching the thrill of victory on the winner’s face (and, if at all possible, the agony of defeat on the losers’). Most of the Academy Awards are knowns, but until the envelope is opened and read, the winners are the night’s only mysteries. And while there are favorites going in every year — and favorites have a way of winning an awful lot — there is the occasional Marisa Tomei–shaped upset to keep the night interesting for everyone.

Unless, of course, you, like us, are a payments and commerce junkie, in which case you find yourself wondering why more of the acceptance speeches don’t reference Apple Pay or the wonders of biometric scanning. And why aren’t more of the movies about money? It’s not that we only care about payments and commerce, of course, so much as we just feel like everything would be that much better if they somehow involved payments or commerce.

But we realized that this was a bug we could correct — and that we could go that last mile our readers need to connect the awards being given out to the payments and commerce ecosystem by telling you who the nominees remind us of and how they would fair in this year’s match-up.  Oh, then there’s the fact that they produced it.

And the nominees (and their payments and commerce counterpart) are …

BEST DIRECTOR (Mastermind)

Arrival (Travis Kalanick, Uber)

Hacksaw Ridge (Marc Lore, Walmart)

La La Land (Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook)

Manchester by the Sea (Jeff Bezos, Amazon)

Moonlight (Marvin Ellison, JCPenney)

This is another category where the question is, do you like the safe choice — or do you bet on the upset?

For the safe choice, we suggest Manchester By the Sea (insofar as any non-La La Land choice is a safe choice) as Academy Award voters tend to like to reward the broodiest movie of the year with the Best Director award, and it doesn’t brood much harder than Manchester by the Sea. And while Jeff Bezos probably would rather be associated with a Star Trek movie than the darkest two hours ever set to film, we imagine he at least induces a lot of brooding in others — particularly the operators of every brick-and-mortar store currently trying to stay open in the era of Amazon. Plus, the Best Director award is the Mastermind award — and given Amazon’s amazing string of vertical leaps — into AI, voice-activated search, checkoutless grocery, drone commerce, same-day delivery and the unabashed ambition to make Prime membership so desirable that it would be “irresponsible not to be a member” — it seems only fair the company’s CEO is the front-runner for this award.

But …

If you like a dark horse, we suggest Hacksaw Ridge, since its real-life director, Mel Gibson, is about as dark a house as it gets at the Oscars this year and because Marc Lore, now backed with Walmart’s checkbook and supply chain, is certainly the shadow figure to watch. Upsets happen, after all, and Lore was the last player to very publicly checkmate Amazon into acquiring the company. Given Walmart’s staggeringly good eCommerce results last quarter — Jeff Bezos is still the natural winner in this category — the chess game is a lot more interesting than it might otherwise be.

BEST SONG (Best Innovation)

“Audition (Fools Who Dream),” La La Land (Amazon Go)

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story (EMV chips)

“City of Stars,” La La Land (Amazon Alexa)

“Can’t Stop This Feeling,” Trolls (Google Home)

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana (Bharat QR Code)

OK, we admit that likening the Best Song nomination to an invention or innovation is a stretch. And that is your fault, ecosystem reader, because we looked, and there are no songs in payments and commerce. It’s like you’re not even trying.

But a song — like an innovation or an invention — is an act of creativity, and we think that’s pretty close.

Amazon looks like the obvious winner in this category, because, like La La Land, it has two entrants in the field (and could have had more — but we are trying to keep up with the paired format). Also the American population love the song “City of Stars” — and if there is an unhappy Alexa owner anywhere on earth, they aren’t speaking publicly about it yet.

But we’re favoring an out-of-the-box choice this year — “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana — and its analog the Bharat QR Code. It might be hard to think of a song from a Disney movie as an underdog in a category — particularly since Disney won this category in 2014 with “Let It Go.” But Disney, for the number of musicals it has put out (and the number of songs we all know by heart for some reason), actually loses an awful lot in this category, because all the songs come from cartoons and are thus more easily overlooked.

Similarly, Bharat QR Code is an interoperable technology solution designed to enable the massive shift to digital payments for over a billion people — and a single steep jump from a cash-only economy to a digital economy of which it is hard to overstate the magnitude. But it’s happening on the other side of the world, so it is easily overlooked.

Plus, Bharat QR Code is part of a bigger mission: a cashless society in the developing world. Moana is also part of a bigger mission: getting Lin Manuel Miranda his EGOT.


Arrival (Amazon)

Fences (Starbucks)

Hacksaw Ridge (Walmart)

Hell or High Water (Kohl’s Pay)

Hidden Figures (Alipay – Western Union)

La La Land (PayPal)

Lion (Bharat QR Code)

Manchester by the Sea (Apple Pay)

Moonlight (Samsung Pay)

The big prize. So many competitors, so hard to decide.

Any of the picks in this category could win — and probably has fans that think it should. Their payments and commerce analogs share that trait.

But we all know that when the winner is announced, La La Land is more likely than not taking it down because at the end of the awards season, it is the movie that everyone seems to pulling for and the one that speaks to the biggest audience.

So PayPal could be the natural fit here — because if in history there was ever a corporation begging to have its story turned into a musical, it’s PayPal. From its founding days with all the people who would go on to be famous like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, to the eBay years, to the drama with Carl Icahn, the spin-off life and reinvention as the financial operating system that democratizes money for all — it might possibly be a musical and movie that could more or less write themselves.

Someone should really tell Lin Manuel Miranda about this.

Well, 2016 was a year in which they did some payments stuff, too — active user accounts hit 197 million, payments processes topped $6 billion, and 40 million consumers and 5 million merchants signed on to OneTouch and Venmo crushed it. There were partnerships — Visa, Mastercard, most notably – and a few big investments in financial inclusion and digital conversion including the Xoom acquisition.

But after all of this excitement, let’s just say that you’re finding that your thirst for award shows has not yet been slated. If that’s the case, have we got some good news for you. Instead of just imagining the Oscars as being about payments, you could just come to the Academy Awards of Payments at Innovation Project 2017.

We’re handing out the prizes that actually matter — Most Disruptive, Best Cash, Best B2B, Most Invisible, Best Comeback, Most Innovative — and we even have various categories, because unlike the cruel world of film, payments is not a zero-sum game. In fact, the more winners there are, the better the industry runs.

And we may not have Jimmy Kimmel as our emcee, but we have the celeb who inspired every single payments innovation there is: Jason Alexander aka George Costanza of Seinfeld’s “fat wallet” fame. A good time will be had by all!

Best part of all, you don’t even have to get Tom Ford to make your tux or Harry Winston to loan you the crown jewels. So join us, won’t you? And if you are one of the nominees, remember, there is no shame in practicing your victory speech ahead of time.

Voting ends tonight, by the way, so don’t forget to vote for your favs!

As for everyone else, enjoy the awards, and see you at the movies.