XBRL is taking hold as the universal language for the exchange of business information.
The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an open-source interactive Web
site Feb. 15 that allows users to generate customized data from SEC financial
With an XBRL (Extensible Business Reporting Language) viewer, the site can
give investors nearly real-time access to the complete and actual data
companies report to the SEC.
The XBRL format allows public companies and mutual funds to submit
information in a standardized, tagged format for analysis and comparisons. The
software eliminates tasks such as copying and pasting rows of revenues and
expenses into a spreadsheet.
Dubbed Financial Explorer by the SEC, the tool generates financial ratios,
graphs and charts. Information including earnings, expenses, cash flows, assets
and liabilities can be analyzed and compared across competing public companies.
"XBRL is fast becoming the universal language for the exchange of
business information and it is the future of financial reporting," SEC
Chairman Christopher Cox said in a statement. "With Financial Explorer or
another XBRL viewer, investors will be able to quickly make sense of financial
The SEC said most free Internet tools use aggregated data and include
disclaimers warning investors not to rely on the information for investment
decisions. David Blaszkowsky, director of the SEC's Office of Interactive
Disclosure, said Financial Explorer is a "first-hand glimpse of the future
of financial analysis, especially for the retail investor."
As interactive data becomes more commonplace, the SEC said, developers will
generate creative Web-based applications that give insights about financial
"In the near future, potentially millions of people will be able to
analyze and compare financial statements and make better-informed investment
decisions," Cox said. "That's a big benefit to ordinary
Since leaving Congress in 2005 to head the agency, Cox has pushed both the
SEC and companies to adopt XBRL. The SEC currently has a voluntary program for
tagging financial documents with XBRL. Microsoft, General Electric and United
Technologies are already participating in the program.
A member of the XML family, XBRL is a machine-readable language for
business and financial data. Instead of treating financial information as a
block of text-as on a standard Internet page or a printed document-it provides
an identifying tag for each individual item of data.