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New Tools to Help Companies and Auditors Evaluate XBRL

As the last group of companies is subject to the final phase of the Securities and Exchange Commission mandate this summer, we are reaching a major turning point for eXtensible Business Reporting Language implementation in the U.S. Investors now have a full data set accessible for their analyses as all information from a company’s financial statements, as well as the notes and schedules, are individually tagged at a detailed level. This means investors now have the ability to search and access specific pieces of information for all public companies.

Although it is expected that companies have the controls and processes in place to ensure the quality of their XBRL files that are submitted to the SEC, many XBRL filings have been submitted with errors. The SEC has released multiple staff observations noting many of these errors. Depending on the types and severity of the errors, investors may experience difficulty when they try to use the files. Incomplete or inconsistent information within files may impact investor analyses. Data that is not mapped appropriately to the taxonomy may impact the ability to locate the right information. When data is not structured appropriately it may prohibit the usability of the files; completely denying investors access to the information. Therefore, the quality of the XBRL files is an important concern.

While third party assurance on XBRL submissions is not required, some companies have taken steps to voluntarily engage their auditors to perform certain agreed upon procedures on XBRL files. AICPA SOP 09-01 Performing Agreed-Upon Procedures Engagements that Address the Completeness, Accuracy or Consistency of XBRL-Tagged Data, was released in April 2009 and was intended for practitioners who may perform engagements not only for entities submitting under the SEC mandate but also for those that voluntarily prepare XBRL-tagged data. This SOP is currently in the process of being updated to align to the Principles and Criteria for XBRL-Formatted Information and is expected to be re-released. These engagements vary among companies and are dependent on the specific procedures that the auditors are requested to perform (typically agreed to by management or the audit committee).

The AICPA’s XBRL Assurance Task Force (under the Assurance Services Executive Committee) recognized a need for a more consistent basis for evaluating the quality of XBRL files for those who prepare and review XBRL files and developed Principles and Criteria for XBRL-Formatted Information. The primary purpose of developing the principles and criteria is to provide preparers, reviewers, practitioners and users of information formatted in XBRL a basis to evaluate the completeness of the XBRL files, the mapping of the source information, the consistency of the XBRL files with the source information and the structure of the XBRL files. To create these principles and criteria, the task force analyzed the SEC’s rules and developed an exhibit that aligns the principles and criteria with the SEC’s requirements. The principles and criteria the task force created have been written for general purposes and are applicable across multiple applications. 

It is expected that prepares and reviewers will use these principles and criteria as a basis to develop their own controls and procedures to evaluate the quality of XBRL files. The principles and criteria meet the requirements under AT section 101, Attest Engagements, in AICPA Professional Standards and have all of the attributes of suitable criteria for use by practitioners to perform attestation engagements. The task force followed due process procedures in establishing and developing these principles and criteria, including exposure for public comment (see comments received during the public exposure period).

The Principles and Criteria for XBRL-Formatted Information is now available in the Technical Practice Aids or can be purchased separately as an e-book.

Ami Beers, CPA, Senior Technical Manager - Business Reporting, Assurance and Advisory Services and XBRL, American Institute of CPAs. Ami is responsible for providing information, tools and resources that enable members to provide valuable business reporting, assurance and advisory services. This includes building awareness and understanding of XBRL and supports the AICPA XBRL Assurance Task Force.

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