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8 Common XBRL Errors: Simple mistakes that can hurt your organization

Lou Rohman, Vice President, XBRL Services, Merrill Corporation | June 14, 2016

There are more than 15,000 XBRL tags in the latest US GAAP Taxonomy. Navigating tagging and tag structures is no walk in the park. But with human nature such as it is, the majority of tagging errors aren’t the complex ones — they’re the painfully simple and entirely avoidable ones. The SEC is now highlighting these basic errors, and it’s only a matter of time before organizations face public embarrassment for elementary mistakes.

SEC calls out simple-yet-common XBRL errors

In a presentation this spring Mike Willis, Assistant Director of the SEC’s Office of Structured Disclosure, highlighted eight commonly found data quality errors:

  • Company-specific extensions (elements & axis)
  • Negative values
  • Scaling errors
  • Incorrect values
  • Incomplete filings
  • Inconsistent dates
  • Missing calculations
  • No detail tagging

The SEC previously referenced some of these errors in Staff Observations, FAQs and other media, but Willis’ March presentation was the first time I’ve seen the SEC list out these errors clearly for all to see. It’s clear the SEC intends to put pressure on filers to clean up their XBRL starting with this low-hanging fruit.

Merrill leading XBRL data quality improvement efforts

At Merrill, we’re keenly aware of these simple-yet-common errors. We’ve been helping correct them since the first XBRL filings in 2009. Of course, we’ve made sure our clients’ filings are free of errors both basic and complex. But we’ve also been persistent advocates for creating tools and guidance to help all filers improve data quality. Most recently, we helped lead an XBRL US Data Quality Committee (DQC) initiative to attack XBRL errors, including the problem of negative values that should be positive. This effort directly decreased the incidence of these rudimentary positive/negative errors. As the DQC turns its attention to other common errors, we hope to see the same immediate impact.

Don’t wait — make easy fixes now

It shouldn’t take a warning from the SEC to get an organization to correct something as simple as positive/negative errors or getting the date correct. It’s easy to get caught up with the more complex XBRL tagging requirements, but the truth is that these basic errors often do plenty of damage — both in terms of inaccurately representing financial information and public embarrassment for the company. Data quality starts with the basics. Make sure you’re getting the little things right, starting with these eight errors pointed out by the SEC.


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