The 2019 NYSSCPA Awards: Industry Award Winner Joel Quall Has Spent Career Championing CPA Profession

By:
Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
May 13, 2019

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Joel Quall
, this year’s winner of the Outstanding CPA in Industry Award, is a strong advocate of relationship building within the accounting profession. “Throughout my career, there are people who have called me saying that they’re thinking of taking a new job—‘What do you think?’” he said. “To this day, I speak to people I worked with 20 years ago, and two years ago, just to keep up with them.” It’s all about “developing a network of trust so that people confide in you.”

During the course of his career, Quall has mentored several young CPAs who later rose to high ranks within the profession. In particular, he has championed the advancement of CPAs into the C-Suite, primarily as CFOs. As the CFO of tZERO, a company that uses blockchain technology to help investors trade in digital securities, he also has a strong interest in technology as a means to making processes more efficient.

Quall originally wanted to focus on prelaw, but his high school teacher, Mr. Hayman,  wisely suggested that accounting might offer steadier and more lucrative opportunities. “As a freshman at Lehman College, Accounting 101 immediately drew me in, and I never  looked back,” he said.

Quall began his CPA career as an auditor at Deloitte. “What an extraordinary opportunity. It was an ideal launchpad, with a congenial atmosphere, strong mentoring, talented colleagues and  impressive great clients,” he said. “That was the foundation for my accounting knowledge, specifically GAAP and SEC standards.”

Following Deloitte, Quall became the CFO at money-transfer company UniTeller Financial Services, Inc., and he has stayed in financial services ever since. Next, he became the manager of technical accounting and internal control at Market Axess Holdings Inc., an electronic bond-trading platform, where he was on the team that took the company through a successful initial public offering. He also served as CFO of Market Axess Canada and interim CFO of Market Axess Europe Ltd., based in London. From there, he moved on to Knight Capital Group—which became Virtu Financial—as corporate controller. Virtu was at the forefront of “using technology to make markets more efficient,” he said—specifically, using microwaves to conduct high-frequency trading. “I always say, what I did in those 10 years, some people don’t do in an entire career.”

tZERO, he said, is “the first regulated broker-dealer that trades in security tokens. … The way to look at security tokens is as a forthcoming asset class, like common stock, preferred stock or bonds. … Right now, only accredited investors can buy within our platform. They buy a security token and trade it just like common stock.”

“Traditional equity trades takes two days to settle,” he said. “With blockchain technology, we can settle instantaneously. Hence, the ‘Zero’ in tZero.”

Despite his many accomplishments, assuming the role of leader did not come naturally to Quall. “An early criticism in my career served as a great turning point; I was told I had poor leadership skills,” he said. “I processed it constructively and began reading books on the subject and observing partners and peers with good leadership skills. Before long, I was able to form my own style of leadership, later reinforced by attending the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of Business.”

Quall mentioned that while at Deloitte, a partner would always ask, “How many hours did you spend teaching the staff?” and he has taken those words to heart. “I look at teaching as an opportunity to sit down with someone and flesh out best practices,” he said, adding, “It’s not necessarily about imposing a methodology; it’s recognizing and applying the most efficient solution. I appreciate all perspectives, whether they come from a peer or a junior accountant, just starting out.  If someone else has a better way, that’s the way it should be done. With open minds and dialogue, camaraderie develops and strong teams emerge.”

When asked about recent challenges facing the profession, he mentioned “implementation overload,” referring to the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s revenue recognition and lease standards, issued in the past few years. “For the longest time, burdened CFOs had to implement these standards, and there weren’t a lot of tools out there. … But I think all the implementation has slowed down, and now there’s time to breathe.”

He also mentioned “disclosure overload,” explaining, “At times, the SEC or the FASB should consider the relevancy of disclosure they’re requiring the preparers of financial statement to provide. Is it truly necessary to the reader of the financial statements?”

Quall said that he is “a true believer in giving back,” both to the profession and the greater community. As a longstanding member of the NYSSCPA, he recalls joining, “because this organization was unique in advocating for CPAs in New York state.” His commitment led him to serve three years on the Board of Directors, from 2008 to 2011. “The Board offered a great opportunity to learn about CPAs and issues outside the New York City area. There was a great camaraderie among the Board and a great exchange of ideas. … It was a tremendous experience working with people all over the state.”

Quall recalled that when AICPA President and CEO Barry C. Melancon came to one of the Board’s meetings to ask for the Society’s support for state legislation promoting the mobility of CPAs, he challenged Melancon about the AICPA’s failure to promote CPAs in the C-Suite, particularly as CFOs. He even reminded Melancon that the AICPA had published a white paper on that subject.

“I’m a big proponent of CFOs being CPAs,” said Quall, who served for many years as a member of the Society’s Chief Financial Officers Committee. “I read the Wall Street Journal every day, and if you look back at the Enron and Lehman Brothers crisis or other major financial frauds, oftentimes, the CFOs were not CPAs.” Quall mentioned the high standards that CPAs are required to uphold, pointing out that they must take a rigorous exam to become licensed, and then complete 40 hours of continuing professional education each year.

Quall and his wife have twins on the autism spectrum, and both have become ardent advocates for improving the lives of people with autism, supporting both nonprofits and special-needs schools. “With both children in high school, they’re especially excited about the emergence of tailored college programs, job training placement specialists and an ever-expanding number of employers who seek out the unique talents of individuals on the autism spectrum,” he said. In addition, the family delivers food for Meals on Wheels, and Quall is an assistant coach for the special needs divisions of the West Side Little League and West Side Soccer League in Manhattan.

But his service to the Society has particular significance to him. “For me, the Society is home base, the place you can always come back to,” he said. “As a member, you feel embraced, respected, and there’s always a warm welcome.”

“I think it’s great profession.” he said. “You can always find an opportunity, and the future is bright. The State Society elevates the profession by continuously enhancing the professional quality of its members, and I’m deeply honored to be among this year’s honorees.”

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