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FASB asks for ideas to make GAAP Taxonomy easier to use

Tammy Whitehouse | May 17, 2017

Companies that have struggled with navigating the U.S. GAAP Financial Reporting Taxonomy to complete their XBRL filings will want to weigh in on the effort at the Financial Accounting Standards Board to make the taxonomy more useable.

The FASB issued an “invitation to comment” asking for input on how to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. GAAP taxonomy. The board is looking for ideas specifically around how to make the taxonomy more usable and how to improve the processes that are involved in updating and improving the taxonomy over time.

The GAAP taxonomy is a kind of dictionary companies follow to select tags for each piece of information in their financial statements. That tagging process is what gives each piece of data a distinct place and meaning in financial statements, making them far more searchable and sortable across entities than traditional HTML filings.

Companies have been required for as long as a decade to provide information via XBRL, although investor and analyst use of tagged, interactive data has been slow to develop. Experts have largely blamed persistent errors in tagging, producing data that’s not entirely reliable, as the primary reason users have not flocked to the interactive data as expected when the Securities and Exchange Commission began requiring it.

The FASB is in charge of updating the taxonomy annually, focusing on both changes to accounting standards and other improvements to make it more useful or easier to navigate. The board has discovered over time that the taxonomy is being used for more than originally intended.

In addition to companies using it to file their GAAP financial statements, the taxonomy also has been used by foreign companies that follow International Financial Reporting Standards. Until recently, the SEC had never approved an IFRS taxonomy, prompting some IFRS filers in the United States to try using the GAAP taxonomy so they could file in XBRL for the sake of comparability with U.S. entities.

FASB says the taxonomy also has seen use by regulatory bodies looking to establish data standards for other uses and by public companies tagging data other than that in primary financial statements, such as earnings release information posted to websites.

FASB’s 41-page invitation to comment provides detailed background and technical questions geared toward how to make the taxonomy easier for users to navigate and how to improve the process for updating the taxonomy. The board is looking for feedback by June 15 and planning a public roundtable for July 18.