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Tim Cook’s Wink At Investors And Apple Pay North Of The Border

If Apple learns nothing else from 2015, it will be that, by and large, bankers just can’t keep a secret.  

After many months of speculation, it looks like Apple Pay may soon launch in Canada. The world learned this earlier this week when one of their Canadian partners accidentally jumped the gun and offered the world a peek at what their Apple Pay integration will be like in the northland.  

If you feel like you’ve already read that story, you have, but it was a different country last time. More on that in a minute.

For all the wincing this week over why no one anywhere can keep a secret, there was also at least one wink this week. That came care of CEO Tim Cook, who announced that retail and customer service phone employees will be eligible for Apple stock awards – though the jury remains out until Apple’s earning call next week who exactly Cook was winking at — his investors, or Amazon.  

So ready for all the Apple ecosystem news you need conveniently in one place? Very good.  

Another Launch, Another Leak

It’s not easy to pull off a quiet international launch — a lesson Apple learned when it tried to get an early launch of its payments platform out the door in the U.K., only to have a HSBC employee slip up at the last minute and leak the news on Twitter.

This week, history did a bit of minor repeating when TD Bank accidentally offered a peek behind the curtain on its website that indicated Apple’s long-touted Canadian launch may soon be in the offing.

The bank’s website briefly offered a link to an Apple Pay page. That link is now gone, and is being explained by TD as mere preparations for when their customers could add cards to Apple’s mobile wallet. The site also briefly noted that Apple Pay transactions would be limited to $100 and “subject to change.”

TD in the U.S. launched Apple Pay support in December 2014, shortly after the program launched stateside.  

The TD leak seems to give credence to estimates that payments the Apple way will roll out in Canada in November, just in time for Christmas.

As of yet, neither TD nor Apple have offered any official confirmation on the timetable for launch, though promotional materials indicate the time is sooner rather than later.

Tim Cook’s Gift To Employees (And Wink At Investors)

T-minus two weeks before Apple’s latest earning report is set to go live, Tim Cook released a new memo to the staff on Wednesday that will likely feel a bit like Christmas come early this year. Going forward, Apple will be extending its stock grant program to all of its employees.  

“This year, I’m excited to let you know that the Executive Team has created a new program for stock ownership through RSU grants,” Cook wrote. “It’s designed to reach employees who were not previously eligible, including many in our amazing retail and AppleCare teams. This new program extends eligibility to everyone not covered by other RSU programs, effectively making everyone who works at Apple eligible for an RSU grant. This is an unusual step, and very special — just like our team.”

RSU — or restricted stock units — are basically a slow acting bonus, vesting at a preset market price and inspiring the talented to stick around long enough for those stocks to come to fruition. Vesting over time at a preset fair market price, they reward particularly valuable employees while giving them an incentive to stick around.

In the past, RSU were for Apple’s corporate and top product performers – though now it seems all 100,000-plus Apple employees, including retail and telephone support staffers, will be eligible.

The move doubtlessly made some Apple employees very happy – but it made some investors even happier, as they believe it portends good things to come in that earnings call.

“Now, you tell me,” wrote one veteran shareholder on a private Apple investor forum, reports Fortune, “does a company take a step like this if they are not categorically hitting it out of the park?”

Others have noted that Apple might also be using the timing of the announcement to wink (or perhaps more accurately, smirk) at their rivals over at Amazon. Earlier this week, Jeff Bezos made some headlines when his CEO ranking by the Harvard Business Review fell from No. 1 to No. 87.  

This is not because Amazon is not making money. If the list was judged the same way it was last year — purely on financial matters — Bezos would once again be in the top spot. But this year, the ranking took into account factors like “environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.”  

The ESG performance was … pretty bad. Amazon ranked 828th on that list. And that is not 828 out of 1,000 as one might naturally assume, that is 828 out of 907. It is also notable, as one commentator pointed out, that insofar as Amazon is not an oil company, chemical manufacturer or coal burning operation, it is working overtime to get a ranking that low.

“It’s pretty hard for a service business to do the environmental damage of, say, an oil company (BP’s Deepwater Horizon) or a chemical producer (Dow’s Bhopal disaster or the more recent horrific explosions in Taijin). So, it’s not an exaggeration to see Amazon as being as bad as it can be in terms of broader community impact for a company of its type,” noted one commentator.

That ranking followed a summer of stories about working conditions at Amazon that indicated a less than wonderful experience and actually moved Bezos to officially deny that his company is a “soulless, dystopian workplace.”

So with that avalanche of bad press around Amazon and a growing conviction that its CEO might be the real world version of the Grinch (albeit the one who delivered Christmas instead of stole it), a few analysts have noted that while Apple’s plans to open stock rewards to the rank-and-file has probably been in the works for a while – the decision to release it this week in particular might not have been an accident.

Generosity might proverbially be its own reward, but if said generosity also manages to needle a rival a little bit — well, no one ever said you can’t have fun while doing a good thing.   

So with the iPhone 6S a seemingly successful launch and Apple employees entering this holiday season feeling particularly jolly, the only thing left is to wait for the Q3 postmortem.

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