XBRL

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Bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2392, to make XBRL the standard for disclosure to the U.S. government has been approved in committee and reported to the full House of Representatives for consideration. [1]

See also transparency.

Contents

Overview

XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is an open standard which supports information modeling and the expression of semantic meaning commonly required in business reporting. XBRL is XML-based. It uses the XML syntax and related XML technologies such as XML Schema (W3C), XLink, XPath and XML namespace to articulate this semantic meaning.

One use of XBRL is to define and exchange financial information, such as a financial statement. The XBRL Specification is developed and published by XBRL International, Inc. (XII).

XBRL is a standards-based way to communicate business and financial information. These communications are defined by metadata set out in taxonomies. Taxonomies capture the definition of individual reporting concepts as well as the relationships between concepts and other semantic meaning.

A wiki repository of XBRL projects can be found at Worldwide XBRL Projects, to be freely explored and updated.

The value of transparent financial reporting

From the Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting to the SEC] August 1, 2008

"... We see a number of potential benefits of interactive data for reporting companies and investors relating to financial and non-financial information. First, interactive data tagging could benefit reporting companies by permitting improved communications with analysts and investors. Released corporate data could be instantaneously and immediately usable by analysts in their models without the need for them to wait for third party aggregators or staff to input the data into their own format. There would be a reduction in search costs. Further, such reduced search costs could potentially increase coverage of companies, especially mid-size and smaller companies, by sell-side and buy-side analysts, and at both major brokerage and independent research firms. Interactive data-tagging also would likely improve the quality of data and the ability of a company to control the presentation of its financial information. The elimination or reduction of the manual input would likely reduce error rates in reporting and inputting of corporate data bu aggregators.

Information supply chain for regulators

"The information supply chain for Regulators involves a number of stakeholders, all of whom have some interest in the information output, including:

  • Government
  • Other higher-level “oversight” regulators or ombudsmen
  • The specific business filing community managed by the regulator
  • The regulatory domain’s information consumer community

This information consumer community also comprises a range of different constituencies:

  • The regulator’s own internal data auditing and compliance staff
  • Third Party data aggregators and publishers
  • The business filers themselves
  • Financial analysts, brokers and independent advisors

The regulator’s internal auditing and compliance staff are interested in data accuracy and completeness and in identifying meaningful exceptions in the data that may warrant further investigation. Third party data aggregators, like Reuters or Standard and Poors (S&P) for example, consume the publicly available data provided by the regulator to add value to it and sell it on to information consumers. These consumers may include both the original business filers and other interested parties such as financial analysts, brokers and advisors.

As figure 1 shows, all these stakeholders may participate in a supply chain that begins with a regulatory filing event and ends with information insight reaching a specific information consumer. Business filers provide the raw data that the regulator formats, stores and analyzes for its primary regulatory purpose.

If allowed or required in the regulator’s specific jurisdiction, feeds from this data may be provided to third party information agencies that add their own proprietary value and s ell the enhanced information on to interested consumers.

In the past, this supply chain was entirely dependent on data provided to the regulator on paper or through basic HTML web forms. Paper submissions forced time-consuming scanning to digitize the reports and error-prone re-keying of data into databases by the regulator’s staff, representing significant non-added-value activities.

Enabling the filing of returns electronically, say in the form of a PDF file or a web form, reduces the scanning overhead but not the re-keying or re-formatting of data that needs to be “taken off” the reports . This is why many regulators are looking to new ways of receiving and managing their data and why many have opted to use data that has been “pre-formatted” using XBRL."

Financial Accounting Foundation proposes 2011 XBRL taxonomy

Companies filing financial statements using XBRL will want to take a look at the proposed 2011 taxonomy, which has been updated to reflect the latest changes in accounting standards.

The Financial Accounting Foundation has published the proposed 2011 U.S. GAAP Financial Reporting Taxonomy for a 60-day review and comment period before it is finalized and published in early 2011. The taxonomy contains updates for changes that have occurred since last year in accounting standards as well as continued refinements and improvements in the taxonomy overall.

The taxonomy is a list of computer-readable tags in eXtensible Business Reporting Language that enables companies to precisely tag data in their financial statements. The tagging makes it easy for users of financial information, including investors, analysts and regulators, to search for, assemble and process data appearing in financial statements.

The 60-day review provides an opportunity for companies that file their financial statements using XBRL to check the updated taxonomy for any corrections that should be made before it is finalized and put into use in 2011.

While the taxonomy currently used by public companies was developed by an independent research organization promoting the XBRL technology, the Financial Accounting Foundation assumed responsibility in 2010 to update the taxonomy as necessary to reflect changes in U.S. GAAP. The FAF is the overseer of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which determines GAAP for all public companies as well as private and not-for-profit entities in the United States.

The Securities and Exchange Commission began requiring the largest public companies to file their financial information in the XBRL format in 2009, with the requirement further phased in for medium and smaller public companies in 2010 and 2011. The SEC championed the XBRL technology to make financial statement information more useful to investors.

When data is tagged through XBRL, it can be downloaded directly into spreadsheets, analyzed in a variety of ways using off-the-shelf software and used in investment models in other software formats. Investors say the approach leads to greater comparability among public companies.

US GAAP XBRL taxonomy

The Financial Accounting Foundation has released the 2011 U.S. GAAP Financial Reporting Taxonomy, pending final acceptance by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The 2011 taxonomy contains updates for accounting standards and other improvements to the 2009 taxonomy currently used by SEC issuers. It contains a list of computer-readable tags in Extensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL, allowing companies to tag precisely the thousands of pieces of financial data that are included in typical long-form financial statements and related footnote disclosures. The tags allow computers to automatically search for, assemble, and process data so it can be readily accessed and analyzed by investors, analysts, journalists and regulators.

In early 2010, the FAF assumed maintenance responsibilities for the taxonomy, and, along with the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which the FAF oversees, assembled a team of technical staff dedicated to updating the taxonomy for changes in U.S. GAAP, and identifying best practices in taxonomy extensions and technical enhancements.

The FAF issued a set of proposed improvements to the taxonomy in the fall, allowing users of the taxonomy to provide feedback on the updates and to provide SEC filers, service providers, software vendors, and other interested parties the opportunity to become familiar with and incorporate new element names for their filings.

The U.S. GAAP 2011 taxonomy is available here.

SEC outsources XBRL to FASB and FAF

The Financial Accounting Standards Board and its overseer, the Financial Accounting Foundation, are forming a team to take over responsibility for managing XBRL taxonomies for U.S. financial reporting purposes.

XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is a technical language for communicating business information electronically. Taxonomies represent the dictionary for the language, mapping bits of information based on reporting standards to their proper destination. The taxonomy for U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles is a list of computer-readable tags in XBRL that allows companies to label precisely the thousands of pieces of financial data that are included in typical long-form financial statements and related footnote disclosures.

The 2009 taxonomy currently in use for public company financial reporting was developed by XBRL US, the non-profit organization that has driven the development and adoption of XBRL for tagging business reports. The FASB provided technical accounting standards support to XBRL US during the development of the 2009 taxonomy.

Since FASB writes the accounting standards that govern public company financial reporting, it’s the logical body to maintain the taxonomies going forward, said XBRL US representative Michelle Savage. “We are responsible for the technical quality, consistency and interoperability of taxonomies,” she said. “We leave the process and decisions around disclosure content to public policy and regulatory processes.”

The FAF said the new team will work toward releasing a taxonomy update in early 2011. The transition of responsibility follows several months of discussion between the FAF and the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has responsibility over filing requirements and therefore over the use and final content of any taxonomy required in filings.

“The FASB’s new role will help ensure that tagging standards remain closely aligned with the U.S. accounting standards they describe,” said SEC Chief Accountant James Kroeker. “This will be a benefit to investors and companies alike.”

SEC seeks comments on XBRL tags

The 2011 U.S. GAAP taxonomy has been published for public comment by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and is available here the public comment period will end on October 31, 2010. Comments on this taxonomy should be submitted directly into the FASB’s taxonomy viewer. The SEC staff encourages filers, investors, analysts, software service providers and other interested parties to participate in this public review to continue to improve the process for creating and using XBRL tagged financial statements.

The staff is also seeking public comment on certain 2011 non-GAAP taxonomies. These non-GAAP taxonomies are available below. Please provide comments on the non-GAAP taxonomies via email to ask-oid@sec.gov no later than October 31, 2010. Please include “Draft 2011 non-GAAP Taxonomies” in the subject line of your email.

Upon completion of the public comment period and consideration of the feedback, the taxonomies will be finalized and ultimately made available for use with the Commission’s systems which the staff expects to happen in early 2011. Indication that the updated taxonomy is available for use will be made via the standard taxonomies page here.

The 2011 U.S. GAAP and non-GAAP taxonomies may be used for filing submissions as soon as they are listed as available for use here and the staff encourages filers to transition to the updated taxonomy as soon as is practicable. Based on the expected timeframe for the review and finalization of the taxonomies, the staff anticipates that use of the 2011 U.S. GAAP and non-GAAP taxonomies will be required for fiscal periods ending on or after July 15, 2011. When finalized, transition guidance will be posted here along with the final 2011 taxonomies.

DRAFT Non-GAAP Taxonomy Files

The tables below show the taxonomy files to which Interactive Data submissions may refer. These documents must not be included with a submission that contains the XBRL instance. Refer to the EDGAR Filer Manual for details.

Each taxonomy release has a "family name" and "version". The namespace that represents each schema must be used in the form as shown. For a thorough review, download the complete Zip format archive containing documentation, references, information about deprecated elements and other files, whether those files are accepted by EDGAR or not. The subset of file locations shown are those corresponding to files that would eventually be accepted by EDGAR.

SEC’s XBRL initiative

Starting with fiscal periods ending on or after June 15, 2009, the SEC's rules require some public companies to submit their financial statements in the XBRL interactive data format.

The requirement will be phased in for all public companies that file certain periodic reports with the Commission.

The Commission has also issued rules that will require interactive data reporting by mutual funds and ratings organizations.

Learn more about the new interactive data disclosure rules for financial statements at the Financial Statements page and the Interactive Data Filings and RSS feeds page.



XBRL at the state level

Source: XBRL: The Inside Story CFO.com, August 24, 2009

"Nevada's [State Controller Kim] Wallin referred to the state's initiative using XBRL to streamline its debt collection, which is still in test mode, as its "spreadsheet from hell project." And, she noted, "every company has some spreadsheet hell."

State agencies turn over debts they can't collect to Wallin's office for transmittal to outside debt collectors. Historically, the information was provided on Excel spreadsheets, but in many different formats. "We had 71 different spreadsheets in the debt-collection area alone," she said.

So the controller's office would have to cut and paste data from certain spreadsheet cells into a master, single-format spreadsheet. Then as payments were received the process would have to be done in reverse, with information on the payments cut and pasted back into spreadsheets in the formats used by the individual agencies. "It was a lot of work and fraught with reconciliation issues, and also internal-control issues because we were manually manipulating the data," said Wallin.

The XBRL project is eliminating all of that, she said. Spreadsheets from the state agencies containing debt data are tagged and sent to a repository containing a debt-collection taxonomy. From there, Wallin's staff can generate XBRL-tagged reports on the debts and send the reports to the debt-collection agencies, which send back payment data on the same XBRL-tagged reports.

Data tagging is being used similarly to improve the reporting on state grants, which also formerly involved a laborious process of manually entering and cutting and pasting information."

Standards adoption for government spending reports likely

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a provision in a bill that will require federal agencies to post spending data on the Internet using uniform formats, a move that will make it easier for regulators and the public to analyze contracts and recovery funding, according to a draft reviewed by Nextgov.

The measure could gain full congressional approval before lawmakers break for the November elections, some House aides said recently.

House and Senate staff currently are reconciling differences between each chamber's versions of the 2009 Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act (S. 303), which will bolster Grants.gov, an online gateway that allows Americans to apply for federal aid.

One compromise measure will require agencies to adhere to data standards created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to publish spending information such as documents associated with entitlement programs, federal contracts and loans.

XBRL at the federal level

  • Source: Using Standards for Transparency Mark Bolgiano, President and CEO, XBRL US XBRL US Testimony to the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, Oversight and Government Reform Committee, March 11, 2009

"This testimony by XBRL US, the national consortium for business reporting standards in the United States, asserts that requirements for transparency in TARP funds reporting and oversight can be met using an existing standard that brings a consistent format to data on financial condition, risk, value, and compensation information regardless of sources.

As our economic crisis has worsened, government has responded with programs that seek to restore stability, investor confidence, and liquidity to the markets. The unprecedented magnitude and urgent pace of the programs bring great risk for fraud and waste and a proven method must be employed to mitigate and manage that risk by making data provided to the government and markets consistent - regardless of the company or system at its source.

Recent investigations have revealed that without consistent data, effective oversight and regulation is not possible.

Government and investors cannot reliably determine the risk and value of troubled assets, know the disposition of TARP and other program funds, or judge compliance with executive compensation and other legislative requirements, unless a standard is adopted.

XBRL, a global open-source standard successfully used for tagging and exchanging financial information by government agencies such as the FDIC and the SEC, can be applied today for compliance, regulation, and congressional oversight of TARP programs. Just as web pages, PDFs, and email have transformed communications over the last fifteen years, XBRL is a mainstream technology that can bring quality, consistency, and interoperability to what is now a patchwork of proprietary data formats.

Transparency in financial reporting, therefore, is no longer a question of capability. It is a matter of agreement and decision, waiting for resolve and action by government and industry for the common good.

The advancement and implementation of this standard is facilitated by XBRL US, a nonprofit consortium that includes all economic sectors with a stake in the information supply chain:

  • filers of information,
  • software companies,
  • accountants and auditors,
  • regulators,
  • publishers,
  • citizens,
  • investors and
  • analysts

who ultimately consume the information.

Government and industry participants in this consortium, working with our development team, have contributed to the creation of XBRL tagging standards for public company reporting of financial statements in US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (or “US GAAP”), for executive compensation data, FDIC bank call reports, mutual fund risk and return reports, proxy statements, and corporate actions.

Using the standard does not require a proprietary software product; facts found in statements, narrative text and footnotes can be tagged within mainstream spreadsheet and word processing documents using free add-ins, or converted using open-source data conversion programs.

This testimony offers XBRL as a proven and immediately available method for standardizing the data that financial institutions provide to the government on fundamentals such as financial position, revenues and expense, cash flow, and executive compensation.

Examples of current use, effectiveness, and readiness for expanded use are presented.

A significant section of this testimony is dedicated to the application of XBRL to mortgage and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) information. Under the leadership of XBRL US board member and MBS white paper author Philip Moyer, CEO of EDGAR Online, XBRL US assembled research and analysis of current reporting practices, and a team of mortgage data experts, to develop an XBRL dictionary for mortgage data which has been demonstrated to industry and government leaders and is ready for use.

Global XBRL initiatives

Australia

Interactive data will be used in Australia's Standard Business Reporting program, which will simplify and expedite the reporting process for Australian companies reporting to multiple government agencies. (see following section)

Belgium

Interactive data is currently required by the National Bank of Belgium's Central Balance Sheets Office for standardized annual accounts filed with it by Belgian companies.

China

The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges have developed XBRL taxonomies for listed companies and mutual funds.

Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS)

CEBS is developing a taxonomy for the Common Solvency Ratio Reporting Framework (COREP) and a taxonomy for Financial Reporting (FINREP) for credit institutions that use International Accounting Standards or International Financial Reporting Standards for financial statements.

Ireland

Irish reporting companies are using interactive data in quarterly industry surveys issued by the Central Statistics Office.

Japan

Financial services companies are using XBRL to report monthly balance sheet information to the Bank of Japan. Thousands of listed companies are submitting earnings reports and corporate governance reports in XBRL format to the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Singapore

Singapore's Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) is requiring companies to file their financial statements in an XBRL interactive data format.

Sweden

Small and medium-sized companies are filing company reports in an XBRL format with Sweden's Companies Registration Office.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom's Companies House launched a project to accept company accounts in XBRL format from audit-exempt UK companies. HM Revenue and Customs launched an online service to accept company tax filings in XBRL format.

United States

Banks submit call reports to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in an XBRL format.

Australian 'Standard Business Reporting Initiative'

Current reporting requirements impose a significant burden on business - a burden that the Australian Government is committed to reducing.

SBR is a multi-agency initiative that will simplify business-to-government reporting by:

  • making forms easier to understand
  • using accounting/record keeping software to automatically pre-fill government forms and
  • introducing a single secure way to interact on-line with participating agencies.

Government agencies participating in the SBR program include the:

  • Australian Treasury
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  • Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA)
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • all state and territory government revenue offices

SBR is focussing on financial reporting first, since this set of forms affects most businesses. Some examples of forms include the Business Activity Statement (Australian Taxation Office) and the Quarterly Business Indicators Survey (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Major work being undertaking in the lead up to the 2010 SBR implementation include:

  • the standardisation of reporting terms
  • development of a reporting taxonomy using XBRL
  • the standardisation of relationships between accounting terms and information reportable information to Government
  • the mapping of reporting rules and relationships to a business' accounts within their accounting/record-keeping system
  • the development of SBR core services
  • connecting government agency systems to the core services and
  • education and two-way communication with business, software developers and business intermediaries.

Open source and XBRL

The XBRL standard can be used in proprietary ways and is also being extensively used for open source projects. Transparency is being advanced through the use of open source standards like XBRL by allowing more market participants to share information. The efficiency of markets is also improved through the expansion of shared information.

Repository of open source XBRL projects

Specification

The current (2008) version of XBRL is 2.1, with errata corrections. The normative version of all the XML Schemas is provided in the specification documents, not in separate files. A conformance suite is available to test processors of XBRL documents.

XBRL's Global Ledger Framework (XBRL GL) is the only set of taxonomies that is developed and recommended by XII.

2010 US XBRL conference

Find out how the XBRL technology standard can enable accountability in the corporate, government and nonprofit worlds by increasing transparency and usability of information. Learn about real-world practical applications and how XBRL can affect change.

Transparency can be defined as openness, communication, and accountability. Many speak of transparency as a cure for today’s challenging times. But just making information available doesn’t take us down the path to transparency. Information needs to be more useable, more accurate and more timely, to truly shed light on the value of an investment, on government spending or on other areas where decisions are made.

The path to transparency is real and it’s happening now. As Chair of the XBRL US National Conference Advisory Committee, I am proud to host an event that will give financial executives at public companies and securities processing professionals practical lessons in the use XBRL and provide a look into the future of financial reporting.

2009 US XBRL conference

XBRL US, the nonprofit consortium for XML business reporting, announced highlights from its national conference, “XBRL Financial Reporting: Advancing Transparency, Transforming the Dialogue” that was held on November 17-18, 2009 at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. Over 230 financial executives, analysts, investor relations professionals and service providers attended the 1 ½ day program that covered lessons learned from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) XBRL mandate for US GAAP reporting, how public companies can use XBRL for their own analysis and what’s ahead for public companies with XBRL.

Major themes identified in the conference include the move towards more practical implementation with lessons learned about XBRL filings from public companies, the SEC and the audit community. The message sent by keynotes and panelists was that XBRL implementation is well underway, best practices are being established in the first wave of the roll-out and all companies need to get educated and up-to-speed. The XBRL Essentials program, a separate track that provided practical education on creating XBRL-formatted financials to comply with the SEC's reporting requirements, was well attended by financial executives seeking to understand what their external reporting teams must do in the XBRL roll-out.

A secondary theme was the future of public company reporting and how XBRL can and will factor into areas such as: corporate actions, internal reporting and government reporting. It was noted that an improvement in data quality means better benchmarking and a greater ability to understand economic activity.

Keynote speeches were presented by:

  • Conference Chairman Taylor Hawes, CFO Intellectual Property & Licensing, Microsoft Corporation and Chair, speaking on investor communication
  • Donald F. Donahue, Chairman and CEO, The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, covering corporate actions and securities processing
  • Marie N. Hollein, President and CEO, Financial Executives International, on the next phase of XBRL for government reporting and public company internal reporting
  • Jeff Morgan, President and CEO, National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI), on investor communication
  • James P. Donovan, Senior Executive Vice President, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), on the value of common reporting standards
  • Kurt N. Schacht, JD, CFA, Managing Director, CFA Institute Centre for Financial Market Integrity, on analyst awareness and use of XBRL

During the conference, XBRL US Labs also announced a Call for Research Partners in the areas of harmonization of XBRL with other standards such as ISO 20022 for financial services and the Federal Government's NIEM framework, and advanced work on XML and XBRL implementations in the areas of identity management, extensibility, and rendering of tagged documents and data streams.

CFA Institute XBRL Primer

Analysts, portfolio managers, and investors currently navigate a winding and uneven path in order to collect the financial information they need to make informed decisions. Company websites, data and information services, and third-party aggregators offer a variety of information in a variety of formats—including statements, regulatory filings, marketing materials, and disclosures—that provide little consistency or comparability between the information gathered from those sources.

Emerging reporting technology, eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), may soon help to enhance access to, and consistency of, financial information. eXtensible Business Reporting Language: A Guide for Investors provides an overview of the basic aspects of the new technology and describes for investment professionals the benefits and challenges presented as the industry moves toward full adoption of XBRL reporting.

History

XBRL can be traced to the efforts of one person, Charlie Hoffman . The specification has gone through several versions, all of which are still available.

  • 1.0 - This version was based on DTDs. It expressed the difference between data exchange in instance documents and metadata exchange in taxonomy documents. Taxonomies were expressed as XML Schema files, but these were not used for instance validation.
  • 2.0 - This version introduced use of XML Schema substitution groups as a way of allowing schema validation of instances. Concept relations were broken out into separate XLink based linkbases. Context data in the instance was collected into a separate element.
  • 2.1 - This version tightened the definition of terms significantly, allowing for the introduction of a conformance suite.
  • SBR - In 2003 the Dutch government started the Netherlands Taxonomy Project (NTP) to create a multi agency taxonomy and communication infrastructure. The Dutch government now collaborates with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore in Standard Business Reporting (SBR) programs. The key objectives of SBR include reduced time and effort spent preparing and filing reports for government by businesses.
  • XBRLS - In 2008 Charlie Hoffman and Rene van Egmond proposed a simplified more user friendly XBRL application profile of XBRL that makes using XBRL easier for most business users, improves the potential for interoperability, and improves the potential for comparibility needed by most business users, business communities, regulators and independent software vendors.

Lack of accuracy

In April 2009 a study of the North Carolina State University Department of Accounting College of Management evaluated the accuracy of XBRL filings for 22 companies participating in the SEC’s voluntary filing program in 2006.

Results of a comparison of XBRL filings to Forms 10-K revealed multiple errors in signage, amounts, labeling, and classification. The study considers that these errors are serious because since XBRL data is computer-readable, users will not visually recognize the errors, especially when using XBRL analysis software.

References


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