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Usage of XBRL Data – SEC, analysts & timing

Lou Rohman, Vice President, XBRL Services, Merrill Corporation | September 13, 2016

“Hey Lou, is all this XBRL data actually being used?”

I get this question at least once a week, and people have been asking me (and asking others) for the past seven years. For the first few years after the 2009 SEC mandate, my answer was “I’m not sure.” But when you consider the timing, it wasn’t until 2013 that all companies that are required to file had submitted four quarters of filings with detailed footnote information tagged. 

Today, my answer is a little different: Watch out. Your XBRL data is definitely being used. It’s being used by more organizations every day, and in more important ways.

We know the SEC is using XBRL

We’re very aware that the SEC is using XBRL data internally—because they’ve said so. Mike Willis, Assistant Director of the SEC’s Office of Structured Disclosure, has repeatedly commented that when he first started working at the SEC in 2015 he was “stunned at the level of [XBRL] use for a broad range of analytical purposes”.

Investors and analysts are using XBRL, too

Several investors and analysts have directly stated that they’re now using XBRL. At a recent Merrill webinar, I listened to Emil Efthimides from Bloomberg talk about its use of XBRL-tagged financial data. Emil said Bloomberg is finding huge value in the rich footnote data.

The number of investors and analysts that have members on the XBRL US Data Quality Committee is also quite telling. As Vice Chairman of the DQC, I’m regularly working with representatives from Bloomberg, S&P Capital IQ, CalcBench, Credit Suisse HOLT, the CFA Institute, the AICPA and Vanderbilt University. These organizations are very actively involved in helping the DQC shape the future of XBRL. It’s safe to say they wouldn’t be spending this time and effort if they weren’t already using XBRL and planning to expand its use in the future.

It’s time to make XBRL data quality a priority

Mike Willis gave this “blunt insight” to filers: “with increasing use of XBRL data comes increasing awareness of XBRL errors.” If you haven’t already, your organization needs to make XBRL data quality a priority—to ensure you don’t get unwanted attention from the SEC, and to ensure that your data tells an accurate story for investors and analysts.

Not sure where to start? Check out my post on common XBRL errors, and make sure you’re running your data against the DQC’s updated validation rules. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, Merrill has a deep bench of XBRL experts that can help you create high-quality XBRL filings.

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