Jump Phase 3 of the SEC's three-part XBRL mandate is under way, and this is the big one: Some 8,000 public companies begin filing their financial reports this year. They join nearly 1,700 of the nation's largest public entities that began the process during the first two years of the mandate.

In other words, XBRL is no longer “the next big thing” or “on the horizon.” It's here. Everyone is doing it because … well, because everyone has to do it.

It's time for XBRL to start fulfilling its promise, and Eric Cohen says it's well on its way.

“The level of depth is such that analysts can make use of thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands, of barcoded facts from which they can pull information,” Cohen, who co-founded the data tagging language, said in a recent MACPA interview. “Companies can now tell their stories and communicate to the marketplace things that used to get lost.”

The results? More transparent information and better financial decisions, hopefully.

In the meantime, there are some things worth noting as thousands of new filers join the XBRL club. Among them:

  • New filers have two years to get things right. The XBRL filing process includes a 24-month span of reduced liability that Cohen calls the “no harm, no foul” period. “If companies find out there is an error in their XBRL filing and they fix it on a timely basis, then no harm, no foul,” he said. “Once the (24-month) bell tolls, that XBRL will be subject to the same liability as traditional filings. Entering Year 3, we're seeing the first group of required filers hearing that bell, and the market is very interested to see what's going on there.”
  • An interesting twist: New filers typically face a two-year process in which they report some fairly basic information in Year 1 and more complex details in Year 2. However, Cohen said it's possible that a new filer might find itself having to skip a step and immediately make the more complex filings. “Let's say they had a really great year (financially) and because of that they become a large accelerated filer as of Dec. 31. That company may go from the simpler (Year 1) filing to having to provide detailed filings with their first (Form) 10-K and not have that extra year to prepare for that more sophisticated filing.”

Interesting things to chew on as we watch XBRL's progress in the United States. Cohen offers some others in this MACPA podcast.

  • Our CPA Spotlight podcasts are also available here or by searching for “CPA Spotlight” in iTunes.

Want to learn more?
You can find out more about XBRL by registering for a couple of important events.

  • The first is the 2011 XBRL U.S. National Conference, set for Sept. 26-27 in Nashville. The conference will focus on GAAP reporting and how public companies can get more out of their investment in XBRL. The MACPA is among the conference's state CPA society partners, and MAPCA members can attend at a 10 percent discount by using the code “MACPA” when registering. Get details and register here.
  • The second is a two-part series of XBRL webcasts featuring Cohen himself. The webcasts will give you all the details you need about the SEC mandate, the benefits of XBRL and what CPAs need to be doing now. The first webcast, an overview of XBRL, will be broadcast from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET on Sept. 21. The second webcast, a how-to XBRL workshop, will be broadcast from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET on Sept. 28. The webcast series will be re-broadcast monthly thereafter. Watch MACPA.org for details.
  • Find out how private companies and non-profits might take advantage of XBRL by reading about the MACPA's case study.

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