The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
Send us tips.

Mobile-Payment Battle Brews Between Apple, Wal-Mart

Apple's iPhones will store credit and debit cards and allow customers to pay for goods and services using the device.

A major battle could be brewing between giants of the retail and technology world over how mobile payments will take hold in America.

This week, Apple announced the release of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus and the Apple Watch, but it also announced Apple Pay, a mobile-payment method that will allow customers to pay for goods — groceries, electronics, food, whatever — with your iPhone at a participating vendors. The program begins next month.

Apple already has some of the larger banks and retailers like McDonald's and Macy's in its corner. One retailer it doesn't have? Wal-Mart.

According to an article from The Washington Post, the Bentonville-based retailer has said no to Apple Pay, and yes to the continued development of its own mobile-payment plan, CurrentC, which will work on any smartphone.

Wal-Mart isn't the only one throwing support behind CurrentC. Target, 7-Eleven, Southwest Airlines, the Gap and Shell are some of the others to join in, according to The Post.

It seems the battle is all but certain. Michael Archer, a partner at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consultant, had this to say:

"There will be a dominant player to come out of CurrentC versus Apple. I'm not willing to handicap either one right now…you've got major players in CurrentC, you've got eight of the top banks and credit card issuers in Apple Pay," Archer said. "The interest level in the space is always going to be challenged if there are competing players. The opportunity, and maybe a need, for convergence is there."

Other than saying they had no plans to use Apple Pay, Wal-Mart officials refused to comment to The Washington Post. Apple reps didn't comment at all about Wal-Mart's stance. For more, check out The Washington Post's complete story here.

WSJ Looks at Crystal Bridges' 'State of the Art' Exhibit

A look inside "State of the Art: Discovering American Art" exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

The Wall Street Journal writes this week on a new exhibit coming Saturday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

The exhibit is called "State of the Art: Discovering American Art," and it features the work of 102 lesser-known American artists from throughout the country. The artists range from age 24 to 87, and the exhibit includes more than 200 canvas works, photographs, sculpture, videos and more.

From the Journal:

The exhibit, says Crystal Bridges' president Don Bacigalupi, is a "massively diverse" selection of 227 works by 102 artists. He and assistant curator Chad Alligood traveled more than 100,000 miles to find them, making studio visits to nearly 1,000 artists, most known only locally if at all. They were looking for art that filled three criteria: virtuosity, engagement and appeal—hardly top concerns of artists who bask in the light of the Whitney Biennial or a Chelsea gallery.

The museum says the exhibition reaches beyond its temporary exhibition spaces, extending into the permanent collection galleries and areas indoors and out, occupying 19,000 SF.

We’ll know much more tomorrow after Crystal Bridges’ media preview. Above, a few photos of some of the works in the exhibit.

Report: Acxiom to Open Austin Office, Hire 150

Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock is planning to open an office in Austin, Texas, according to the Austin Business Journal.

The publicly traded data services provider (Nasdaq: ACXM) plans to hire 150 in the city, a hotbed of tech activity. Christopher Calnan reports that Acxiom is seeking network engineers, security engineers and network architects. It plans a recruiting event on Sept. 25 in Austin.

Acme CFO, Employees Sue Berkshire Hathaway For Cutting Benefits

A reader passes along this nugget from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Acme Brick’s CFO, an Acme employee and an Acme retiree have filed a class-action lawsuit against the brick company’s owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway, saying the company broke its promise not to cut retirement benefits to Acme employees.

From the Star-Telegram:

CFO Judy Hunter, who has fiduciary responsibility as a member of the retirement plan committees, joined with another employee and a retiree in lodging the suit following alleged "strong-arm tactics" by Berkshire Hathaway to reduce benefits.

Acme’s senior management on July 15 voted to make changes to the retirement plans urged by Buffett, Berkshire’s chief executive officer, and Marc Hamburg, its CFO. If the changes were not made, "Berkshire Hathaway intended to divest itself of Acme as a subsidiary," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that Berkshire cut contributions to the Acme 401(k) program and froze its pension in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

A Berkshire executive wouldn't comment on the lawsuit but told the Star-Telegram that Berkshire never promised to keep benefits the same.

You can access a PDF of the lawsuit here.

Acme employs more than 2,200 people across the country, including Clarksville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Malvern, North Little Rock and Springdale. Berkshire purchased Acme in 2000.

Arkansas Supreme Court Agrees to Raise Bar Exam Fee

The Arkansas Supreme Court today granted a request by the Board of Law Examiners to raise the fee law students must pay to take the Arkansas Bar Examination.

The fee was $400. Today's per curiam by the high court raises it to $500, beginning with the February exam.

The order cites increased expenses tied to administering the exam as reason for the increase. The court set the $400 rate in November 2006.

The increase comes at a tough time for new lawyers seeking a job. Arkansas Business' Mark Friedman reported in July that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law would reduce its enrollment for the fall because of the tight job market for new attorneys.

The American Bar Association reported in April that, nine months after graduating, 57 percent of the 2013 graduates of ABA-approved law schools were employed in long-term, full-time positions where bar passage was required. That percentage was up only slightly from 56.2 percent for the graduating class of 2012.