The mutual fund industry is trying to make it easier and faster for investors and advisers to get relevant information about mutual funds when making investment decisions. As part of an ongoing effort to transform the increasingly outdated EDGAR electronic filing system, the Investment Company Institute, an industry trade group, has issued a proposed taxonomy for extensible business reporting language, or XBRL. XBRL is a language for the electronic communication of business and financial data. This information includes funds' investment objectives, principal investment strategies, principal risks and historical fund performance, along with the standardized fund fee table, the ICI said. Currently, the vast majority of EDGAR documents are filed in ASCII text or HTML, which makes financial analysis and comparing data labor- and time-intensive. XBRL acts like a "bar code" for financial information, and will allow fund companies to prepare information quickly, publish it in multiple formats and make it available for a variety of systems and applications. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, some 8,200 U.S. financial institutions already are using XBRL to submit their quarterly call reports to U.S. banking regulators. "In a remarkably short period of time, the Internet has transformed and accelerated our ability to gather, distribute and utilize information," ICI President Paul Schott Stevens said in a statement. The development comes as SEC Chairman Christopher Cox continues to emphasize the potential of the Internet and interactive technology as a means to better inform and educate investors.
On the SEC's Web site, investors can access an XBRL application that is targeted at public companies by tagging certain information from their detailed financial statement data. The ICI's XBRL version is similar, though it is specifically targeted to mutual fund investors and advisers, who are less focused on financial statements for key information, but instead tend to look at information in the risk/return summary when evaluating funds. The ICI's proposal is the first that "extends XBRL beyond the financial statements," says Mike McNamee, director of public communications at the ICI. McNamee says mutual fund companies that elect to use XBRL will have to use it across the board, which will prevent funds from cherry-picking which information they highlight. Like the SEC's XBRL application for public companies, the mutual fund XBRL program would be voluntary for mutual funds. It also would be available through the SEC's EDGAR service. There are a few more steps before the ICI's XBRL application would be made available to investors. There is a 45-day review period that begins today. Any comments submitted will be evaluated and adjustments may be made. The SEC would then have to amend its program to include or add the new information from the risk/return summary.