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Zeroing in on Characteristics of a Quality SEC XBRL Financial Filing

In past blog posts I have discussed the characteristics of a quality SEC XBRL financial filing and how to achieve that quality effectively and efficiently by focusing on meaning rather than the XBRL syntax.

In this blog post I want to tune those target characteristics from what I have learned from my analysis of 5525 SEC XBRL filings.

Keeping the end goal in mind is the best perspective to evaluate what you need from an SEC XBRL financial filing to consider it a quality product:

  • All formats convey the same message/meaning: Financial reports are submitted to the SEC in both HTML and XBRL formats. Both formats have the same information and both formats should obviously communicate the same message. While the format may change, the meaning of the information must not change.
  • Integrity: A financial statement rendered on paper foots, cross casts, and otherwise "ticks and ties".  The same will be true of an SEC XBRL financial filing. An interesting aspect of an SEC XBRL financial filings is that because of its structured nature, computer software can help the process of making sure everything "ticks and ties". This type of automated quality checking is impossible with an unstructured format such as PDF or HTML as computer software cannot read these formats and derive understand of what it is looking at.  Further, while each component of your financial report must "tick and tie", it is also the case that each of the components need to properly fit together correctly.
  • Rendering: One benefit of SEC XBRL financial filings is that many different software applications can read that standard format.  As such, you will want each software application presenting that information to users of the information in a consistent form.  If certain applications unintentionally render information inconsistently, information may be obfuscated in some way and your information may be misinterpreted. Most users of SEC XBRL financial information are unlikely to be using the SEC XBRL interactive data viewer.  If users want to read the information they will simply use the HTML version.
  • Justifiable extension concepts: Extension concepts and other metadata added to an SEC XBRL financial filing should be justifiable. You determine the uniqueness of your company, which needs to be balanced with using standard metadata appropriately. Core financial integrity should be intact and sets a foundation upon which you build.
  • Consistency with peer group: Extension concepts and other metadata added to an SEC XBRL financial filing should be as similar to your peer groups as you desire. Again, you determine the uniqueness of your company, which needs to be balanced with using standard metadata provided appropriately.
  • Consistency between periods: Likewise, your SEC XBRL financial filing should be consistent between periods. Changes will obviously occur within your SEC XBRL filing between periods. But something reported in one filing period would generally be the same in the next filing period.
  • Clear business meaning: The business meaning of your SEC XBRL financial filing should be clear to you and clear to users of your financial information, preferably interpreting that meaning in the same way that you as its creator intended.  The more explicit you are in creating the information, the less users of that information will need to imply.  So, always be explicit where you can.  Another way to say this is that it is far better to be explicit than to leave readers to imply meaning which they may imply incorrectly.
  • Usable for analysis: The bottom line is how usable is your SEC XBRL financial information for analysis. If it is useful, then you most likely did a good job in creating your SEC XBRL financial filing.

Quality may not be a high priority now, but as the legal liability exemption terminates, more and more filers will focus on quality. Thinking even further down the road, there is a high probability that the SEC will end up requiring only those XBRL filings, the HTML will go away. Now, software will need to improve significantly to make this happen, but it will happen eventually.  Then, the XBRL will be the only format.

Now is the time to zero in on quality.

Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 06:25AM by Registered CommenterCharlie in | CommentsPost a Comment

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