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FASB unveils XBRL 2011 taxonomy

Feb 28th 2011
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Speakers at a recent Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Webcast, XBRL 2011 Taxonomy Overview, presented an outline of what public company financial report preparers need to know about using the 2011 XBRL taxonomy, a list of computer-readable tags in eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) prepared by FASB.

All public companies will be required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to attach XBRL exhibits to their July 1 filings.

FASB assumed responsibility for the 2011 US GAAP financial reporting taxonomy from XBRL US. FASB has been charged with developing a continuous review process to maintain and update the taxonomy, and with integrating the taxonomy with other FASB standard setting processes.

Instance documents containing relevant tags will be created when exposure drafts of accounting standards updates are released. Instance documents are business reports in XBRL form that provide information in context, complying with the definitions set down in a taxonomy and one or more extension taxonomies. The documents could be financial statements, quarterly, or half-year reports.

FASB will make changes based on validation testing and comments, and will identify and include filer XBRL "best practices." J. Louis Matherne, chief of taxonomy development, FASB, emphasized that the taxonomy open for comment cannot be used for a filing until it receives SEC approval, which will take place on an annual basis. It would be relatively easy, however, for a company to tag the financial fact as an extension and after SEC approval, perform a search and replace. The SEC will also comment throughout the process.

The 2011 taxonomy corrects errors and removes redundancies from the 2009 taxonomy and updates modeling for existing taxonomy structures. Christine Tan, XBRL project manager, FASB, discussed some of the technical improvements in the 2011 taxonomy and described how a user might navigate the complete taxonomy.  The 2011 taxonomy is available on FASB's Web site in both an online version and an Excel version at US GAAP Financial Reporting Taxonomy.

Users search within the taxonomy for the specific financial information they wish to tag, select the tag, and the definition (the element) for the tag appears in a paragraph on the screen (see image). Users may search new elements. Deprecated (deleted) elements are also shown.

The SEC maintains the taxonomy for country codes and currency codes, which will be imported into the final 2011 taxonomy. No date has been set for final approval, Susan Yount, CPA, of the SEC, said on the Webcast, but filers should be in touch with their software and filing service providers about setting up conversion before the next filing. New XBRL filers should begin creating a process for tag mapping and review.

Yount acknowledged that one of the most frequently asked questions about XBRL was "Is anyone actually using the tagged exhibits?" She said that the SEC uses the data to analyze filings, and the exhibits are being used in markets. Other speakers said that there is anecdotal evidence of use, and that Morgan Stanley and PwC, for example, have set up platforms to analyze XBRL data. It is still early, Matherne said. At this point users commonly go to the SEC site and set up RSS feeds.

Speakers addressed questions about whether FASB will set up more specific industry filters. Matherne said that it was not practical to set up additional coverage but the FASB would work with specific industries to set up templates that could be used by companies within those industries. Tan said that FASB is considering sponsoring an educational Webcast in the near future devoted to navigating the taxonomy.

The Webcast was moderated by Neal E. McGarity, director of communications for the Financial Accounting Foundation. You can listen to the complete recording of the Webcast.

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