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The Incredible eXtensible Business Reporting Language

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Back in 1998, Charlie Hoffman, a CPA, embarked on a quest to revolutionize the way the world creates and shares business information. Based on eXtensible Markup Language, a new document markup language at the time, the eXtensible Business Reporting Language was created. Hoffman took his idea to the AICPA, which funded and championed the project. By 2000, XBRL 1.0 was published and interest had grown beyond the borders of the U.S. into the international community. Countries from Australia to Spain were signing up and applying XBRL to form better business information.

Fast forward to 2008 (read the full history of XBRL), Christopher Cox, then Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman, successfully led the way for XBRL, culminating in a set of rules requiring public company financial statements and mutual fund risk/return summaries to submit in XBRL format. The first of those XBRL filings occurred in June 2009 for the largest U.S. accelerated filers that use U.S. GAAP with at least five billion dollars worldwide public float. In 2010, all U.S. accelerated filers that use U.S. GAAP were required to file their quarterly or annual financial statements in XBRL. Now, in 2011, we’re into the third year of the XBRL phase-in and all remaining public companies are required to submit XBRL exhibits.

XBRL has certainly come a long way in the last decade-plus. The complete U.S. GAAP Taxonomy was first published in 2008, with more than 12,400 XBRL tags and definitions (almost twice as many as any other national taxonomy). Just recently the 2012 U.S. GAAP Financial Reporting Taxonomy and the International Financial Reporting Standards XBRL Taxonomy were released for public comment. Other uses of XBRL are being realized as well. At least two companies are developing “software journalists” that will automate the writing of articles based on XBRL data in SEC filings. In addition, the federal government is interested in the potential benefits that can be derived from the use of XBRL. Several legislative proposals have been presented to Congress that support the use of XBRL by federal agencies. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and the Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Services Act of 2011 are examples of recent bills that would require the federal government to collect data in XBRL format. 

Another interesting development has been the shift from filers outsourcing XBRL tagging to in-house operations. In early surveys, 80-90 percent of respondents indicated they outsourced the task; however, recent surveys show that percentage has dropped to 62. The AICPA offers a number of resources on XBRL on its website, including webcasts. Recently the AICPA developed eXacct, an online tool with XBRL functionality that is based on information in the Accounting Trends and Techniques publication. The AICPA also hosted a dynamic webcast providing an update on XBRL, how XBRL data is being used and demonstrated this new tool. The webcast is archived and available for free.

What has been your experience with XBRL? Any uncommon uses for XBRL data you’ve seen?

Ami Beers, CPA, Manager - Business Reporting, Assurance and Advisory Services, 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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