SEC Chairman speaks about benefits of XBRL reporting

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06 Jun 2006

US SEC Chairman Christopher Cox recently spoke about (PDF 55k).

'Interactive data' is financial and other information that is tagged using the XBRL programming language. Benefits of XBRL cited by Chairman Cox include easier and more timely access to the information; more accurate and reliable information; and significant new analytical capabilities. With regard to accuracy of financial data, Chairman Cox noted:

And the numbers the investor sees using interactive data will be vastly more accurate than they have been up to this point. Most people think that the numbers analysts and investment professionals work with come directly from SEC filings. Even some CEOs think this. But it's not true. An entire industry has developed to extract information in the financial statements that companies file with us. The error rate from this process is unacceptably high. According to one study, for example, computers taking down data from the SEC website get the numbers right only 72% of the time. People must then manually check every one of these hundreds of items in every company's financial statements to get that 28% that was not captured correctly. This is time consuming and, because human fingers are involved, error prone. Even after the human extraction has taken place, the error rate can range between 5% and 20%. With all of the advancements we have today, and with all of the money we spend on making sure that companies put out accurate numbers, why do we allow this low-tech approach to continue unabated?

Edgar Online, a Connecticut company whose business it is to extract information from our SEC filings and resell it to users downstream, has given us an idea of what the future could be like. They have embraced interactive data, and have already tagged more than 10,000 companies' statements - including all the 10Ks, and all the 10Qs - going back several years. Edgar Online says that, thanks to XBRL, it has attained a greater than 99% accuracy rate.

Imagine retail investors having access to better numbers than professional analysts ever dreamed of, and imagine combining this accuracy with the power to mix and match, and to compare and analyze those numbers.

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