• Tech

    This XBRL Thing Appears to Be Really Happening

    By | September 23, 2010

    This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

    There’s no time to take a breather when it comes to XBRL implementations. New projects, regulations and initiatives are launched or introduced somewhere around the globe just about weekly, it appears. CFOs with firms that have yet to join the group won’t be out of the loop much longer.

    XBRL, the acronym for eXtensible Business Reporting Language, means that the data contained within financial reports is constructed as individual elements, rather than blocks of text. Each piece of data comes with an identifying tag and is linked to accounting definitions or rules. So, a number that makes up annual revenue has a different identity than a number that goes into payroll expense. The result? The data becomes “computer readable,” or interactive, so analysts, investors and regulators can easily compare one set of financial data to another.

    Consider the following announcements and events:


    Public company filings in the US: The last group of public companies that have yet to file XBRL financial statements with the SEC will start doing so for fiscal periods ending on or after June 15 of next year. These generally will be companies with market caps of less than $75 million or annual revenue of less than $50 million.

    Domestic Banks: Earlier this month, Citibank announced that it was participating in a pilot involving the use of XBRL within dividend announcements issued by American Depositary Receipts, or ADRs. ADR dividend announcements were a logical starting point, because they’re concentrated among a relatively small number of issuers, and currently require lots of paper and re-keying of information, as this article in Earth Times points out.

    US Legislation: True, a provision contained in early versions of the Dodd-Frank bill, and which would have required federal regulators to use a standard electronic format, like XBRL, when collecting info from the financial sector never made it to the final version. However, this summer Rep. Darrell Issa of California introduced a bill (H.R. 6038) that would amend Dodd-Frank to again include this provision. On July 30, it was referred to both the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Agriculture.

    Along those lines, the House and Senate currently are hammering out legislation, the 2009 Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act (S.303), which would require federal agencies to post spending data online in a uniform fashion – most likely, XBRL, NextGov reports. Just as XBRL will allow for easier analysis of corporate finances, this move would enable taxpayers and regulators to more easily examine federal spending and contracts.

    Credit Agencies: Just before Labor Day, the SEC announced that a list of XBRL tags had been published on its website, and that nationally recognized statistical rating organizations (NRSROs) would need to begin using them by November 1 of this year.
    Mutual Funds: By January of next year, mutual funds will be required to provide the SEC with summary information on risk and return from their prospectuses in XBRL format.

    While XBRL’s benefits for investors have been the focus of much attention, the XBRL-related initiatives underway should benefit corporate America, as well, judging from a study by two researchers at Fordham University. In “XBRL and its financial reporting benefits: Capital market evidence,” Christine Tan and John Shon of Fordham write, “the findings of this study suggest that firms that file using XBRL experience a reduction in information asymmetry.” Moreover, XBRL may help smaller firms attract an analyst following, they add.