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Considering the Entire Reporting Life Cycle when Creating SEC XBRL Filings

Most processes used to generate SEC XBRL financial filings are additional processes which are bolted on to an existing financial reporting process and don't consider the entire financial reporting life cycle. Therefore, those using such processes to generate their SEC XBRL financial filings don't see much value from XBRL; or rather, accountants and auditors involved in these processes see XBRL as more of a nuance than as something of value.

Part of the reason the value of XBRL is hard to see is that currently there are few software solutions or products which leverage the benefits enabled by XBRL and therefore the financial reporting life cycle is held together using expensive human resources.

As such, many of the benefits offered by XBRL are seen as burdens or obstacles which must be overcome. Consider validation of information within an SEC XBRL filing as an example. Many of those creating SEC XBRL financial filings see things like the XBRL US consistency checks and other XBRL validation services as unnecessary obstacles which simply cause them additional work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reason things like the XBRL US consistency checks and other XBRL based validation services are not valued is because the SEC submission process does not consider these sorts of business rules. Two things to keep in the back of your mind about this: (1) it is US GAAP and other reporting rules which specify these validation constraints, not SEC XBRL submission and (2) eventually the SEC will specify such validation rules, I predict.

Consider a very simple example to make my point.  Clearly in a financial report the number of common shares outstanding needs to be greater than the number of common shares authorized. The same is true for issued shares.  Accountants and auditors are used to checking to be sure that within a financial report the authorized shares are greater than the outstanding and issued shares by looking at the printed financial report.

But because XBRL articulates information in a manner that a computer can read these three pieces of information (authorized, issued, outstanding shares) and compare them; the computer can take over this mundane validation process. It is trivial for a computer to verify this information and a computer will never get tired or otherwise make a mistake.

There are literally thousands of such business rules.  I heard that the COREP taxonomy which is used for bank solvency and liquidity reporting has 36,000 business rules.  FINREP which is used for bank financial reporting has 7,500. The FDIC taxonomy has a less impressive number of rules, between 1,800 to 3,500 business rules (I have heard both numbers).

How many business rules does the US GAAP Taxonomy provide? Zero.  Really, zero.  Does that mean that US GAAP has fewer rules?  Certainly not. It simply means that the FASB has yet to provide those rules in a form that XBRL software can use. Those familiar with US GAAP and the power of XBRL Formula for expressing those rules realize the potential. Does the fact that they don't exist today mean that you don't need to create correct SEC XBRL financial filings?

You might look at it this way if your only objective is to get your SEC XBRL financial filing submitted.  However, if you want to maximize the quality of your financial reports and minimize their cost; these business rules can help automate many aspects of your financial reporting life cycle.

Some organizations are creating in-house systems or custom solutions to easily enable the use of business rules within their processes. Eventually, this type of functionality will exist within off the shelf products.

If you really think about it and consider the characteristics of a quality financial statement, it is rather easy to make the case for using XBRL and leveraging its benefits whether you need to report in an XBRL format to some regulator or not.

It is with these enablers offered by XBRL that the last mile of finance is being repaved.

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