Liv A. Watson

XBRL: Enhancing Financial Reporting Transparency

Use these steps to help your clients convert data into XBRL.

July 6, 2006
by Liv A. Watson, VP of Global Strategy

In last month’s column, I encouraged CPAs to help their clients format their financial reports in “Interactive Data” format and join the many companies participating in the SEC’s Voluntary Filing Program.
CPAs have unfortunately been dragging their feet in providing their clients with solutions for tagging their financials in XBRL because most accountants think that XBRL is only about a new complicated technology. For those of you who still view XBRL as simply technology, I have one question: Do you look at HTML as technology or do you look at it as a must-have solution for communicating financial and business reporting information to the ever-growing networked world?

Today, most accountants probably do not even think about HTML as the underlying solution that enables them to communicate to the right stakeholders. Fact: Getting the right information to the right stakeholders at the right time is the common Internet standard called HTML. It allows you to control how the stakeholders view information when they launch their Internet browser. However, HTML has its limitations: the data is only useful for human consumption and interpretation. Computers cannot process or understand the data in HTML format. Computers can understand data once it is tagged to XBRL taxonomies.

Last month’s column explained why CPAs should take the lead and encourage their public company clients to tag their financial statements to XBRL Taxonomies and participate in SEC's XBRL Voluntary Filing Program.

This month, we’ll explore the “means to do it” with different solutions that are out in the marketplace for getting your clients company data converted into XBRL.

  1. Build your own application: This is not recommended unless you are prepared to support and upgrade the application. On the positive side, you have more control of the product development schedule.

  2. Purchase an XBRL Document Creator: Companies such as Rivet Software’s Dragon Tag XBRL enabler is a Microsoft® Office add-in that simplifies converting existing Microsoft Word and Excel financial data into XBRL format. Several vendors provide this solution and it is a manual process where the user needs to have some understanding of XBRL and the mapping of 1800 plus U.S.-GAAP taxonomy data items to furnish their client’s financials in XBRL.

  3. Outsource the solution: Companies, such as RR Donnelley, already provide complete solutions for public companies’ EDGAR and SEC Online filing needs. They provide outsourced solutions that provide financial statements to companies converted to XBRL formatted data for immediate participation in the SEC XBRL Voluntary Filing Program. This process is composed of both an automated “lights out” program model that locates and parses the primary financial tables, other supporting footnotes and line item embedded data items, as well as, interactive tools that allow companies to validate and further detail the financial information. In addition, RR. Donnelley provides their clients with access to industry competitive XBRL data through Microsoft Excel, a Web site, a visualization dashboard or a direct data feed with XBRL data from EDGAR Online, Inc. Through an easy to use wizard, the user can request different data types to create proprietary templates and models or use one of the pre-packaged models.

Other software vendors like Adobe, EDGAR Online, Microsoft, Oracle, Fujitsu and Hitachi, DecisionSoft, DynAccSys, Rivet Software, Semansys and UBmatrix also provide XBRL Solutions and services. For more information visit the XBRL Web site.

An emerging worldwide standard for the publishing, exchange, and analysis of financial reports and data, XBRL makes it easier to prepare and publish financial documents. The idea is to enter information once, and then automatically convert it to various formats. The information can also be reliably extracted and analyzed across companies.

Still not convinced that you too can provide a service to your client that makes financial reporting in XBRL as uncomplicated as opening an HTML document?

Remember that there are currently over 20 companies taking part in the SEC Voluntary Filing Program reporting in XBRL in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of companies around the world accomplishing the same. Each of those companies has and accountant or an accounting firm helping them. What’s holding you back? Take the next step and see simplicity at its best.

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Liv Watson is an accountant and Vice President of Global Strategy for Norwalk, Connecticut-based EDGAR Online Inc. (NASDAQ: EDGR) — a provider of global business and financial information. Questions? Contact Liv.