FDIC project tries out XBRL

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Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is largely an untested standard for government and industry in the United States, but a new modernization project at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. could give XBRL some momentum.

The FDIC's Call Report Modernization Project will use XBRL — a variation on the standard Extensible Markup Language agencies use to enhance electronic transactions and communications. The FDIC is turning to the format to ensure that the agency and the banks it oversees are working with the same forms and processes, said Phil Walenga, assistant director of the FDIC's bank technology group.

He was speaking June 17 at the Making E-Government Count: The New Era of Financial Management and Reporting conference hosted by the Council for Excellence in Government in Washington, D.C.

Agencies are familiar with XML's advantages when it comes to interoperability and exchanging data. Some of the cross-agency e-government initiatives, such as Grants.gov, are developing their own community-specific XML schemas.

XRBL includes the ability to add extra "modules" to schemas, such as definitions of business processes in addition to data definitions, so it has the potential to serve many more needs, Walenga said.

The federal Joint Financial Management Improvement Program endorsed XBRL in late 2001 for financial reporting, and the Call Report Modernization project already includes the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. But the standard is intended for any business function, stressed John Turner, vice chairman of the domain working group on the XBRL International Steering Committee.

The FDIC also is talking to other agencies, including the Census Bureau, about the benefits of using XBRL, Walenga said.

The Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, which also is a banking regulatory agency, was the first to use XBRL and can vouch for its greater accuracy of data, timeliness of reporting and efficiency of oversight, Turner said. However, although XBRL is a new technology, the biggest challenge will be managing the cultural change, he said.

The FDIC has awarded a contract that brings in an industry team led by Unisys Corp. to help develop XBRL frameworks that will provide data and business process definitions. By early next year, the agency plans to have developed a shared repository of those frameworks. By the end of next year, the FDIC and financial institutions will pilot and roll out the full new call report process, Walenga said.

"We'll have data that's timely enough for us — regulators and bankers — to plan ahead," he said.

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