In an effort to improve the quality of data regarding financial firms that is available to investors and market participants, the SEC proposed a rule on March 1 that would require firms to submit financial statements and mutual fund summaries using inline XBRL.

Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is a machine-readable format for filing financial information. In 2009, the SEC adopted rules that required operating companies and open-end management investment companies to file certain information using XBRL in addition to their HTML filings, and to post the XBRL information on their websites.

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Under the proposed rule, firms would use inline XBRL to embed financial data directly into their HTML filings rather than submit them as a separate document. Inline XBRL can be read naturally by investors without having to refer to a separate document, and electronically by machines. The proposal also removes the requirement that firms post XBRL files on their websites.

The SEC noted in the rule proposal that it has “identified a number of data quality issues associated with financial statement information” filed by operating companies using XBRL, and that is has received comments expressing concern over the quality, use and cost of creating that data.

The proposal referred to a 2013 study by the Financial Executives Research Foundation that found it took companies a median of 25 hours to prepare XBRL data and 15 hours to review it. Firms that outsourced their XBRL responsibilities paid between $8,000 and $10,000.

In addition to improving the quality of data available, the SEC believes the cost of preparing data for inline XBRL would decrease over time.

The SEC has allowed firms to voluntary file reports using inline XBRL since June 2016 as a way to test is usefulness to investors and companies, and to develop preparation and analysis tools. As of Feb. 27, 35 companies had voluntarily filed using inline XBRL, according to the SEC.

The SEC is currently accepting comments on the proposed rule. The comment period is open until May 16.

 Switching to inline XBRL is a way to “clean house a little bit,” according to Rob Blake, vice president of product management for Certent. Blake spoke on a webinar on April 19 explaining the impact of inline XBRL (or iXBRL) on firms and investors.

If adopted, the rule will be phased in over three tranches, “all dependent on when the proposed rule becomes final,” Blake said.

Blake believes the SEC will make the final rule official in August and will be fully phased in by August 2020, but he stressed that that is his own personal estimation.

“I don’t think this rule has anything in it that’s going to cause, overall, people to have agita,” he said.  “Ultimately, this technology … is really about allowing the XBRL, the thing the computer likes and wants, and the HTML, the part that our human brains like to see because we can visualize [it], to come together.”

Blake believes a requriement to file using inline XBRL is a net positive for firms. “It should make things easier,” he said.

— Read Balance Is Key to Advisor Tech, Client Service: Kitces on ThinkAdvisor.