Will More Filers Create XBRL Crunch?

About 7,000 to 8,000 smaller companies, the so-called tier 3 filers, must start tagging their financial filings into the interactive XBRL format this year, but some worry third-party vendors won't be able to handle the strain of tagging data for so many companies.

Financial Executives International cited "concerns over the readiness of service providers to handle the onslaught of demand coming in 2011" in a recent letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission. This year's third wave follows the 500 large companies required to submit XBRL-formatted files in 2009 and the 1,200 midsize companies that started last year.

About three-quarters of FEI's members use outside vendors to generate the XBRL files, according to a recent survey, says Lorraine Malonza, FEI's senior manager of accounting policy and financial research. She points out that even more "smaller companies will not have the resources to get this done in-house."

FEI's survey found its members spent from 12 hours to 2,000 hours a quarter to tag financial statements. The quarterly cost also varied widely, from "several thousand dollars at smaller companies to $500,000 at the largest filers."

Others say this year's surge in XBRL filing is widely anticipated and planned for.

"Everyone's known about this for the last three years, so a lot of the vendors have been ramping up to do it," says Campbell Pryde, CEO of XBRL US, a nonprofit standards consortium.

"There's been a lot of experience gained in the last two years, and improvement in the tools, to handle that capacity," Pryde adds. "And the financial statements of these companies are usually a lot simpler than those of the larger companies that have filed to date."

Patrick Quinlan, president and CEO of Rivet Software, says his company's workforce has grown from 40 to 500 over the last 18 months in preparation for this year's surge. Given the complexity of the work that has been done in tagging financial statements for the biggest companies, "I'm confident that Rivet and other companies in the space can provide that same service to the wave three filers," he says.

Quinlan predicts that half of companies may shift to doing the work themselves once they've gotten past their first year of detailed footnote tagging.

"It's only a complex process the first time you do it," he says "After that it becomes an incredibly repetitive process."

FEI members are also concerned that the XBRL work is slowing the process of releasing their financial data to investors. Outside providers generally take 48 hours to do the tagging, and then companies need to review the XBRL file. The XBRL-tagged financials must be submitted at the same time as the regular 10-Q or 10-K, but FEI has proposed to the SEC that companies be allowed to submit the XBRL-formatted version as much as a week after the filing, without having to do an amended filing for the XBRL document. "You have at least a savings of that 48 hours," says FEI's Malonza.

But XBRL U.S.'s Pryde says that providing the regular filing in advance of the XBRL version might result in data companies taking the regular filing and transforming it, rather than waiting for the XBRL filing.

"The whole point of having this data electronic is so you can eliminate a lot of the manual work that goes into the analysis," he says. "If this was a temporary arrangement, just to give companies a chance to get over the hump, that might be a solution. But if it is adopted long term, you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater."


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