of the Month: Try XBRL
By Susan B. Anders
AUGUST 2008 - The
SEC has announced a three-year timetable for companies to begin
making financial disclosures using Extensible Business Reporting
Language (XBRL). XBRL is not just a tool to make regulatory agency
activities easier while creating yet another hardship for reporting
companies. It is revolutionizing financial reporting, analysis,
and education. A partnership between Edgar Online (EDGR), a company
specializing in financial regulatory reporting, and RR Donnelley
(RRD), a print and electronic document provider, has created a commercial
web portal at www.tryxbrl.com.
It is designed to help users learn about XBRL, view sample XBRL
financial statements, and convert their company’s financial
statements to XBRL.
XBRL is a
technology for preparing and transmitting financial data that
labels (tags) companies’ financial data with codes from
standard lists (taxonomies). XBRL-formatted financial reports
allow investors to easily locate and analyze information.
first created by a CPA, Charles Hoffman, based on the more complex
extensible markup language (XML) used to code documents on the
Internet. XBRL was developed by an international consortium (www.xbrl.org)
that includes the AICPA. The technology is available to the public
for free; however, approximately half of the more than 50 companies
participating in the SEC’s voluntary program have outsourced
the data translation activity to companies like Try XBRL.
the original purpose of XBRL was to save time and reduce the costs
of creating business reports, the SEC and other regulators also
stress the increased usability and transparency of financial information.
In XBRL reports, each item of data, both numbers and text, is
given a unique identifying tag. The interactive data can then
be selectively transferred into a spreadsheet or other document
for analysis, exchange, or presentation.
websites have good information about and access to XBRL tools,
Try XBRL is well organized and easy to use and navigate, and is
an excellent starting point for accountants who are new to the
and main pages have a uniform appearance, headed by a banner beneath
that is a scrolling graphic and a timeline of SEC rulemaking and
XBRL mandates. The three key areas of the website, “Learn,”
“Try,” and “File,” are included in the
banner, on the homepage’s right-side index, and in the center
of the page.
has several features available to the general public. The “Learn”
main page offers a brief video that covers XBRL in general, Edgar
Online’s commercial I-Metrix financial analysis tool, and
RRD’s XBRL processing service. The “Learn” section
also has subsidiary pages addressing “Why XBRL?,”
“What is XBRL?,” as well as “resources,”
“XBRL FAQ,” “glossary,” “ask us
a question,” and “XBRL analysis tool.” “Why
XBRL?” and “What is XBRL?” provide brief background
information, and the glossary defines XBRL-related terms such
as taxonomy and tags. The XBRL FAQ answers 21 basic questions,
such as “What are the key benefits of XBRL?” The companies
participating in the voluntary program are listed under “Who’s
filing with SEC Now?” The “XBRL analysis tool,”
found under both “Learn” and “Try,” offers
a free trial of the I-Metrix tool that allows users to view and
download company financial statements and summaries.
page links to a PDF of the SEC’s Proposed Ruling of May
30, 2008, to require companies to submit financial information
using interactive data. A PowerPoint slide details the timeline
for the comment and ruling period, as well as the deadline for
companies to use XBRL reporting. RRD provides a 44-minute webcast
and PowerPoint presentation summarizing the SEC proposed rules,
covering background information on XBRL and how it works, and
addressing RRD’s services to translate and transmit XBRL
filings to the SEC.
page also offers several downloadable white papers and other documents,
including an 18-page primer on XBRL and interactive data and marketing
brochures. Try XBRL provides separate 88-page XBRL reference guides
for public companies and investment management companies. These
guides include step-by-step implementation prepared by the Financial
Executives Research Foundation.
section has subsidiary pages for “my company’s financials,”
“peer comparison,” “sample RRD financials,”
“sample EDGR financials,” and “XBRL analysis
tool.” Registration for “my company’s financials”
and “peer comparison” requires the company’s
“ticker” symbol and peer company symbols, so nonpublic
company users cannot obtain complimentary access. Both the RRD
and EDGR quarterly income statements, in XBRL format, are available
for all users. The SEC also offers a “test drive”
of five companies’ interactive data (www.sec.gov/spotlight/xbrl/xbrlwebapp.shtml),
although Try XBRL’s is easier for beginners.
at these sample XBRL financial statements, the user will view
a webpage presentation resembling an electronic worksheet (Exhibit
1). Placing the cursor over any data cell brings up a pop-up
window with a description of the object. Clicking on a data cell
takes the user to the originating page in the SEC filing (e.g.,
the 10-Q), which also provides a link to return to the financials
view on the spreadsheet webpage. Selected portions of the data
can be copied and pasted into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet by
highlighting the desired data and using the mouse or browser toolbar.
the mouse anywhere on the webpage spreadsheet allows the user
to easily export the entire worksheet into an Excel worksheet,
with no additional manipulation required (Exhibit
2). The Excel worksheet opens in a separate window from the
website and can be saved. Once in Excel, the data can be manipulated
in any desired manner.
the 21st century of financial reporting!
B. Anders, PhD, CPA, is a professor of accounting at St.
Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, N.Y.