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SEC XBRL Filing Templates: Making XBRL Easier

I created a prototype or a concept model of something which has been thrown around for years by CPAs in the XBRL community.  I call it XBRL Trends and Techniques. As you look at this, remember that this is a prototype; use your imagination as you consider what this might offer SEC XBRL filers.

The idea comes from a very popular publication of the AICPA: Accounting Trends and Techniques. That web page says that version is its 63rd year of publication. The publication is basically a survey of about 600 companies create their financial statements.  The survey looks at what is disclosed, how it is disclosed, terminology, etc.

My XBRL Trends and Techniques is a similar idea, only it uses XBRL instead of paper or PDF or DVD.

Imagine what amounts to a searchable database of templates which one could use to create their SEC XBRL filing.  It would work like this.

  • Step 1: The templates are created (I will get back to this key step in a moment). OK, so some accountant who understands both financial reporting and XBRL puts together high quality XBRL instances, XBRL taxonomies, business rules (XBRL Formulas), and all the other things one needs.
  • Step 2: All the templates are organized into an RSS feed.  Here is my prototype RSS feed. I would likely expand the fields in that feed, modeling it after the iTunes format which is becoming a well accepted standard which is well documented and supported. So, this page is just for looks really. The template library is intended to be read by computer applications, such as SEC XBRL filing software.
  • Step 3: SEC XBRL filing software reads this RSS feed. It uses the "Title", "Description", "Keywords" within the software application to help the user find what they need. This supplements the complete US GAAP Taxonomy, it does not replace it.
  • Step 4: The SEC filer starts with the template(s) of their liking to create their SEC XBRL filing. They could start with a complete model financial statement, or they could pull together pieces.  They could already have a filing and just need another piece from one or two templates for a new disclosure they need to make.
  • Step 5: They complete their SEC XBRL filing.

This is somewhat of a no-brainer idea. Accountants can even make money creating templates for complex areas of financial reporting and sell them.  Heck, there could be a marketplace created to connect those who know how to create templates with those who need them.

I said I would get back to how templates are created.  Remember how I said Accounting Trends and Techniques did a survey of 600 financial statements? Why do they limit the survey to 600?  Well, this is because the survey is done by hand and all the pieces are put together by hand.

You know what the best database of these templates is?  Actual SEC XBRL filings. The templates are good because someone has actually used them. This is how financials are created today, using existing SEC filings to see how someone else approached a disclosure scenario.  Both accountants and attorneys who participate in creating filings do this, but they use the HTML versions or even worse, paper.

A great application which has been discussed for years is an interface into the SEC XBRL database of filings, organized by industry, type of disclosure, filing characteristics, etc.  When filers start seeing this sort of functionality within SEC XBRL filing creation software, then they will start to "get" what XBRL is really all about and see some of what is in it for them.

Consider smaller SEC filers, private companies, auditors or accountants who are creating a financial within an industry they do not have a lot of experience with, etc.  These templates can come from anywhere on the Internet.  This is the way iTunes works.  iTunes is an aggregator.  It pulls all the pieces together into a very useful database of music, video, and other media.  Anyone can create an RSS and submit something which will show up in iTunes.  I have done this.  Why can't the same thing be done for XBRL templates for taxonomies, business rules, etc?  After all, it is all in a standard format, XBRL!

Do you have any ideas for how XBRL can be used in the process of creating financial statements?

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