An exploratory study of chartered accountants' awareness and

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					             An exploratory study of chartered
               accountants’ awareness and
                 understanding of XBRL
GF Nel                                                                 LP Steenkamp
Department of Accountancy                                  Department of Accountancy
University of Stellenbosch                                  University of Stellenbosch

  Abstract
  eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is an important new technology for
  the electronic communication of business and financial data and, by implication,
  relevant to, inter alia, chartered accountants. Because research in Australia and the
  USA showed unacceptably low levels of awareness and understanding of XBRL,
  research was conducted to determine the levels of awareness and understanding of
  XBRL in South Africa. The study was limited to chartered accountants. The results
  showed that the majority of chartered accountants in South Africa are currently
  unaware of XBRL and few fully understand it. In spite of these findings, the majority
  of respondents acknowledged the fact that it was necessary for either them or
  someone in their organisation to investigate the matter of XBRL in the near future.
  Key words
  Chartered accountants
  Communication of business and financial data
  Information technology and accounting
  XBRL


1 Introduction and background
eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) has been described in various ways as
“revolutionising” (XBRL International 2007a), “groundbreaking” (Pinsker 2003:732), “a
critical technology” (Burnett, Friedman & Murthy 2006:39) and a “source of fundamental
change” (Troshani & Doolin 2007:177). “XBRL is a language for the electronic
communication of business and financial data which is revolutionising business reporting
around the world” (XBRL International 2007a). As such, XBRL is a technology that is
particularly relevant to chartered accountants (SA) (CAs) and the greater accounting and
auditing community, because one of its major benefits is more accurate and reliable
reporting.
  At a basic conceptual level, XBRL is simply a way of adding additional information to
blocks or components of text, thereby giving it meaning for computer software. The XBRL

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An exploratory study of chartered accountants’ awareness and understanding of XBRL

standard is free of charge and anybody can make use of it. XBRL is being developed by an
international consortium of companies and organisations, with international implementation
taking place in increasing numbers (XBRL International 2007b). South Africa is playing its
part in this process, with the launch of XBRL South Africa in July 2006. The South African
Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) as well as the Big Four audit firms, namely
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte, are founding members of
XBRL South Africa.
   Prior research by, for example, Pinsker (2003) in the USA, indicated that there was a
lack of awareness among potential XBRL stakeholders, in spite of the benefits of this
“revolutionising” development and coverage in the US popular and business press. In
South Africa, there has been coverage in the popular press, for example, in an article
in Die Burger (Fokus op XBRL 2006), and Accountancy SA (De Beer 2006). This gives
rise to the need to assess the level of awareness of XBRL among South African CAs.
This study attempts to address this question. It also investigates CAs’ understanding and
current perceptions of XBRL and whether there is a demand for further education on
XBRL.
   The next section briefly describes XBRL, followed by a discussion of the international
research literature on awareness and perceptions of XBRL. Thereafter the research
methodology is set out in section 4, including a detailed description of the research
questions answered by this study. The results of a survey are discussed in the penultimate
section, followed by the conclusion.

2 What is XBRL?
A detailed and technical description of XBRL falls outside the scope of this research and
only a brief background description of XBRL and its benefits and risks is provided.

2.1 Background on XBRL
XBRL is the evolution of protocols, with its origin in HTML. Hypertext Markup Language
(HTML) is a well-known markup language that was developed to display data or text on,
websites, for example. To specify the formatting of text, the text would have “tags”
indicating the desired formatting – for example <b>bold</b> would display as bold, with
the tags between the < and > signs.
   eXtensible Markup Language (XML) is a more advanced markup language,
which describes the data and says what the data are. Thus, instead of a number just
being a number, XML indicates what that number is, say, a debtor figure or employee
number. It therefore adds meaning to data, aiding in the efficient processing thereof
by computer software. It does this by adding “tags” to the data, again contained in < and >
signs. If an employee number is formatted in the XML format, it might resemble
the following: <EmployeeNo>123456</EmployeeNo>. These data are therefore
identifiable by the software as not only text, but text in a specific context, say, an employee
number.
   An important part of XML is that it is “extensible”, meaning that users or companies can
define their own tags. Different organisations might therefore use, define or allocate tags
differently. Hence users from different organisations cannot necessarily make use of tagged
data from another organisation. In the above example of the employee number, another

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company may make use of the tag <EmplNo>, which would render the tag useless when
used outside the specific organisation (Bagranoff, Simkin & Norman 2008:379; Dykes &
Tittel 2005).
   eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is a variant of XML, developed
specifically for business and financial reporting. XBRL solves the abovementioned problem
of inconsistency between organisations in the context of financial and business data. XBRL
creates reporting protocols that standardise the tags used to communicate financial and
business data electronically. These tags are all included in the XBRL “taxonomy”, which is
the dictionary XBRL uses to define the meaning of the different tags (XBRL International
2007b). XBRL adds a standardised tag to data indicating the nature of the data, for example
“Trade debtors”. This makes the data understandable to the computer, while still being
readable by humans. It can also add tags showing whether it is a monetary or other
numerical item and whether it belongs in a particular grouping or classification, say, current
assets, as well as the financial period the figure relates to (Flowerday, Blundell & Von
Solms 2006:326).
   XBRL is not only applied to financial or numerical data, but also to text data. Thus the
company’s accounting policy and its subcomponents may also be identified by XBRL tags.
Since it forms part of the XML family, it is also extensible, and can therefore be customised
to suit the needs of different organisations and industries (Higgins & Harrell 2003:14).
There are indeed groups working at developing specific tags for specific industries (Higgins
& Harrell 2003:14), some of which have already been finalised in the USA, for example,
taxonomies for banking, insurance and investment management (XBRL International
2007a).

2.2 Benefits of XBRL
The XBRL community has lauded the benefits of XBRL and there is indeed an impressive
array of gains that the various users will be able to realise with the implementation of this
technology. A brief review of some of the benefits relevant to organisations and chartered
accountants is given below. Since organisations will implement XBRL because of the
numerous benefits available to them, chartered accountants and, more specifically auditors,
would also be exposed to XBRL and therefore need to take cognisance of it.
   The main advantage is that XBRL eliminates the manual transfer of data, leading to
fewer errors and higher quality data. XBRL expedites real-time preparation of financial
information because data are already understandable to the computer and can therefore
easily be transformed into financial statements and reports. Data can easily be retrieved
from the computer, thereby facilitating, inter alia, customised reporting and – of particular
relevance to auditors – quicker analysis of data.
  XBRL is independent of the computer platform and software applications. The data can
therefore be used for multiple purposes, say, for preparing financial statements, statutory
reports, tax returns and internal reports, all of which are readable on different computers
and systems.
   These are benefits to the company utilising XBRL as well as to the auditors. Time and
cost savings realised by the auditors in the above processes could lead to lower audit fees or
more value-added services to the client. Because the XBRL taxonomy is both free and
freely available, that is, not proprietary to specific software, it facilitates continuous

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auditing, a practice which could become more prevalent as time goes on (Troshani &
Doolin 2007; Flowerday et al. 2006; Barac 2004; Higgins & Harrell 2003; Bergeron 2003).

2.3 Risks associated with XBRL
As with any new technology, there are certain risks to consider. Auditors need to be aware
of these factors when planning and performing their audit procedures. There may be errors
in the way in which tags are assigned, for example, the “net profit before tax” tag may be
assigned to “net profit after tax”. The process of mapping the accounts to XBRL tags is a
critical step that auditors need to review. This fact increases the risk for auditors as well,
because there may be an unspoken expectation from the client that the XBRL mapping
should be covered by audit procedures (Burnett et al. 2006:37-39).
   The wrong XBRL taxonomy may be used, for example, the USA GAAP taxonomy may
be used instead of the IFRS taxonomy, which would result in the whole mapping process
having to be repeated. By the same token, where relevant, the correct industry taxonomy
must be used. In the final instance, the accuracy of reports prepared with the aid of XBRL-
enabled data must also be validated (Burnett et al. 2006:37-39). It should also be borne in
mind that XBRL is still in its growing phase and far from maturity. New versions and
updates to old versions will continue to be made available, which raises the issue of
integration and compatibility. This also has cost implications and will initially take time to
implement. These factors must be taken into account when any XBRL-based data or
information is used (Bergeron 2003:182).
   XBRL cannot be developed to provide for every conceivable organisation, and scope is
therefore left for the standard taxonomy to be customised for the needs of different
organisations or industries. This extensibility would seem to negate the usefulness of XBRL
because it would lead to incompatibility between organisations (Cohen 2004). Cohen
(2004:188) therefore suggests that if the XBRL taxonomy is customised, there should be an
audit trail from the customised taxonomy to the standard taxonomy. As an alternative, he
proposes that organisations may wish to opt for a compromise, where the existing standard
taxonomy is adopted if there are no material differences between a “perfect” fit when
customised and a materially acceptable fit using the standard taxonomy. This is a matter
that has not been fully considered in the literature and will probably be revisited as XBRL
matures further.
  The adoption and implementation of XBRL is an information technology project like any
other, and is therefore exposed to the risks associated with information technology
implementation (Bergeron 2003:183).

2.4 Conclusion
The above discussion provided a brief overview of XBRL and its benefits and risks.
Various resources are available, which include further background on and more technical
details of XBRL, its taxonomies and elaborations on the benefits and risks of XBRL. The
reader is referred to www.XBRL.org, Bergeron (2003), Dykes and Tittel (2005) and
Phillips, Bahmanziari and Colvard (2008).
  XBRL is a beneficial addition to the information technology environment of CAs, with
advantages such as cost and time savings that may be anticipated. While XBRL does not
appear to hold any undue risk, auditors need to be aware of its workings and potential

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impact on the figures on which they provide an opinion. It would therefore appear that a
high level of awareness should exist among CAs. The next section reviews literature on the
awareness and perceptions of XBRL.

3 Literature review on the awareness and perceptions of
  XBRL
3.1 Awareness
Pinsker (2003:734) conducted a survey in 2003 to determine the level of awareness of
XBRL among internal and external auditors in the USA. He found a low level of
knowledge of and experience with XBRL among the respondents, who rated these at 1.71
and 1.24 respectively on a seven-point scale (one being “low” and 7 “high”). Pinsker was
surprised at this low level of awareness because trade and business journals were carrying
regular features on XBRL in 2003, four years after the introduction of XBRL in the USA.
   Troshani and Doolin (2007) conducted a study among XBRL stakeholders such as,
accounting firms and software developers in Australia, on the diffusion of XBRL in
Australia and found that the attempts to increase awareness of XBRL had been ineffective.
Early adopters of XBRL were unwilling to share their success stories in an effort to hold on
to their competitive advantage of employing this new technology as long as possible. In an
earlier study in 2005, Troshani and Doolin (2005) reported that the low level of adoption of
XBRL in Australia could be attributed to a variety of factors:
□ The adoption strategy in Australia was ineffective.
□ There was a lack of education of employees by organisations who could potentially
    have been XBRL users.
□ There was a lack of resources available to XBRL Australia Ltd to promote XBRL.
□ There was an ongoing process of change in the accounting arena, which may have made
    the adoption of XBRL a lesser priority. This was exacerbated by the number of changes
    that were taking place in the XBRL taxonomy at that stage. Potential adopters were
    therefore more inclined to wait until the accounting standards and the XBRL
    taxonomies had stabilised.
□ There was limited software support available for XBRL, leading to potential difficulty
    in implementing XBRL
Shortly before the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its commitment to the
future use of XBRL, Grant Thornton LLP, the USA-based accounting firm, commissioned
a survey in 2006 containing a small number of questions on XBRL. It found that 53.7% of
senior finance executives were aware of XBRL and 91.4% believed that the accounting
profession had not made the benefits of XBRL sufficiently widely known (Grgeta 2006).
Grant Thornton LLP repeated the survey in 2007, and the awareness of XBRL increased
only to 59.7%, with 85.07% of the respondents still feeling that the dissemination of
knowledge on XBRL in the accounting industry was inadequate (McFarland 2007).
   Similarly, the international association of investment professionals, the CFA Institute
(2007a), found that 59% of its members were not aware of XBRL, but those who were
aware of it, considered it to be a useful tool in their analyses of the financial information of
companies.

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3.2 Perceptions
Pinsker and Wheeler (2007) launched a study on the perceptions of non-professional
investors of XBRL. Two groups of MBA students carried out an assignment on the analysis
of financial statements, with one group using XBRL-based information and technology and
the other conducting the more traditional paper-based analysis. The participants perceived
the XBRL-enabled analysis of financial statements to be more effective and efficient. The
participants also perceived the companies that make XBRL information available to be
more effective and efficient. They noted that users’ perceptions were positively affected
when they were provided with an example of the uses of XBRL and of practical experience
of XBRL.
   According to the respondents in Pinkster’s (2003) study, the benefits of XBRL of, say,
effectiveness and efficiency, would occur in practice. Pinsker recommended that XBRL
International should increase its efforts to make the potential benefits more widely known
among the future user base of XBRL. He also placed the onus on the shoulders of auditors
to educate themselves on the issue of XBRL.
   As discussed earlier, XBRL is extensible and can be modified. However, 66% of the
respondents in the survey by the CFA Institute (2007a) felt that the ability to modify the
standard taxonomy should be limited, while 25% felt that modifications should be
prohibited (CFA Institute 2007b).
   It would seem that XBRL is currently not a well-known innovation internationally, but
that there are positive perceptions of it. The current study investigates this matter in a South
African context.

4 Research methodology
4.1 Contribution of the research
The research was conducted in an attempt to assess the level of awareness and
understanding of XBRL among CAs registered with SAICA. As discussed in section 2,
XBRL has many benefits and will in all probability have an impact on CAs, be it as
auditors or as compilers or users of information. It is therefore vital for CAs to be aware of
and have a working knowledge of XBRL. If these are lacking, corrective steps need to be
taken. It is hoped that the results of this study will assist SAICA and XBRL South Africa to
determine strategies to aid the adoption and diffusion of XBRL in South Africa. SAICA’s
willingness to support this research and expressed interest in the results indicate that this
may indeed be the case.

4.2 Research questions
The study attempts to answer the following research questions:
(1) How aware are chartered accountants in South Africa of XBRL?
(2) Do chartered accountants who are currently aware of XBRL also have an
      understanding of it?
(3) What are the perceptions of chartered accounts in South Africa of the impact,
      relevance, benefits and risks of XBRL?


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(4)   Do chartered accountants in South Africa feel there is a need for further education
      and information on XBRL?

4.3 Research methodology
A literature review on studies on the awareness and perceptions of XBRL was conducted.
On the basis of the literature, a questionnaire was developed and distributed to a sample of
CAs to investigate, inter alia, their awareness and perceptions of XBRL. The questionnaire
was distributed electronically. The answers to the questionnaire were exported to a
spreadsheet application where the results were first cleaned and then analysed. All answers
were scrutinised to eliminate instances in which respondents clearly had not answered the
questions. The answers to open-ended questions were analysed and summarised in similar
categories.

4.4 Questionnaire design and distribution
A questionnaire was developed to answer the research questions as discussed in section 4.2.
The questionnaire was reviewed by two CAs in academia, a statistician, a partner in an
audit firm, an auditor specialising in computer auditing and a specialist on questionnaires
and surveys. In addition, six persons in senior management positions in SAICA also
commented on the questionnaire after they had reviewed it. After this process, the
questionnaire was finalised.
   The questionnaire consisted of two parts. Part 1 dealt with the respondents’ demographic
information and general awareness of XBRL. Part 2 covered the respondents’ prior
exposure to and perceptions of XBRL, as well as the need for further education. All
respondents were requested to complete Part 1. Only respondents who had been aware of
XBRL prior to receiving the questionnaire were requested to complete Part 2 of the
questionnaire, because the questions would only be applicable if they were aware of XBRL.
Owing to the fact that this was an exploratory study and in an effort to encourage potential
respondents to complete the questionnaire to increase the response rate, the questionnaire
was kept as short as possible.

4.5 Sample and limitations of the study
As in previous studies (e.g. Troshani & Doolin 2007:183), the issue identified at the outset
was the relative youth of this new technology. The researchers were therefore aware that a
low response rate might be achieved, as was experienced by Pinsker (2003:734). Owing to
the significant contribution that XBRL could make to CAs, it was decided to continue with
the research in spite of this possibility. Moreover, SAICA and XBRL South Africa
indicated that they deemed it to be important research and that it would benefit them in
their planning of the way forward with XBRL.
  It was decided not to use convenience samples because this would not necessarily allow
for a wide range of input from all potential stakeholders. The alternative was to send the
questionnaire to known XRBL stakeholders (as was done in, for example, Troshani &
Doolin 2007) to gain their opinion of or perceptions on XBRL. However, this would have
meant that only informed attitudes might come to light because they would already have
been involved in the process of XBRL planning and/or implementation. A view on the
awareness of XBRL among CAs could also then not be formed. Furthermore, in order to

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maximise the number of responses and to obtain the input of as many respondents as
possible, it was decided not to make use of a random sample.
   On 31 July 2007, SAICA sent an e-mail to 9,572 chartered accountants in commerce and
industry and in medium and large audit practices in the Western Cape, on the East Rand
and West Rand, and in the Johannesburg and Pretoria areas. These were the areas and
sectors that SAICA and XBRL South Africa indicated to be those in which members were
more likely to have a need of XBRL and would therefore be most likely to have an
awareness of XBRL. It was felt that sending the questionnaire to small practitioners would
skew the results, because at this stage of the development and implementation of XBRL,
these small practitioners would probably have no need of XBRL and it would therefore be
of little relevance to them.
   An additional constraint was that this study focused on CAs in South Africa and it was
felt that the results might not be generalisable beyond this scope. However, it would add to
the body of knowledge on XBRL in general and more specifically in South Africa. It would
assist in future studies where the awareness of different countries might be assessed and
compared, as was envisioned in Troshani and Doolin (2007:185).

5 Discussion of results
5.1 Response rate
The 208 responses received were fewer than would have been ideal, but the researchers
decided to continue with the research and analysis of results for the following reasons:
□ In spite of the low rate in terms of percentage coverage (2.2%), the rate in terms of
   absolute numbers (208) was still a sufficient basis for preliminary conclusions.
□ This was an exploratory study and the results would therefore indicate future actions to
   raise awareness, regardless of the response rate achieved.
□ Both SAICA and XBRL South Africa supported the initiative and it was therefore
   doubtful whether a higher response rate could have been achieved by any other cost-
   effective means.
□ Since XBRL is relatively new technology in terms of widespread use, this might lead to
   a low level of awareness. Because of this, it was anticipated at the start of the study that
   a non-response bias might exist with respect to potential respondents who did not know
   of XBRL and who would therefore not be interested in participating in the survey. This
   proposition was conceivably borne out by the fact that a considerable number of people
   (8,575) who received the e-mail did not open or read it (only 997 persons to whom the
   e-mail had been sent opened it). It is worth noting that the response rate of the persons
   opening the e-mail was 20.8%.
□ Previous research of this type conducted by Pinsker also had an extremely low response
   rate, with only 17 usable responses in the sample (Pinsker 2003:734). Likewise,
   Troshani and Doolin (2005) based their conclusions on 11 interviews.

5.2 Demographics and awareness
Two hundred and eight responses were received to the first part of the questionnaire. This
section consisted of five questions focusing on:

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□ the respondents’ demographic information
□ the respondents’ level of awareness of XBRL
□ the participants’ appetite for further investigation on XBRL in the future because of this
   survey
From figures 1 and 2 it is evident that 53% of the respondents were employed in top
management (managing directors, financial directors, other directors and senior
management) at the time and 71% were in large organisations (listed companies, unlisted
companies with an annual turnover of more than R50 million and the Big Four audit firms).
This strengthens the credibility of their inputs and the results of the survey in general.
Figure 1 Job description of respondents
                          Senior
                      management 14%
                                                           Accountants 19%

                 Other director 8%


                                                                 Auditors 10%

               Financial director
                     21%
                                                               Consultants 11%

                         Managing director           Other 7%
                              10%

Figure 2 Organisations at which respondents were employed

                            Big Four audit
                                 firm
                                 12%                            Unlisted company
                                                                (annual turnover <
                                                                      R50 m)
                                                                       16%
         Unlisted company
         (annual turnover >
               R50 m)                                                   Other
                29%                                                     13%




                                             Listed company
                                                   30%


The respondents were requested to rate their awareness of XBRL before this survey. Since
a brief description of XBRL was given in the cover letter to the questionnaire, it was
necessary to set the parameter “before this survey”. The results are presented in table 1.



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Table 1    Awareness of XBRL before the survey
 I have never heard of it                                                                  55%
 I have heard of it, but do not know what it is about                                      34%
 I have heard of it and am aware of XBRL                                                   11%

The majority of respondents (89%) had never heard of XBRL prior to the survey or had
heard of it, but did not know what it was about. The majority of CAs were therefore not
aware of XBRL at the time of the survey.
   Part 1 of the questionnaire contained a question measuring the respondents’ eagerness to
investigate XBRL in the near future. A brief introduction to XBRL had been given in a
cover letter, and this question measured the perceived importance of XBRL to respondents
who might previously have been unaware of XBRL. Respondents to this question had to
choose one of the following six options:
□ No, I have already investigated it before this survey
□ No, I am not interested
□ No, it is not relevant to me
□ Possibly, I was not aware of it before this survey
□ Yes, I was not aware of it before this survey
□ Yes, I was aware of XBRL and will investigate it further
Answers were regrouped as presented in table 2 to show the difference between
respondents who were and were not aware of XBRL prior to the survey.
Table 2    Will you investigate XBRL in the near future because of this survey?
                                  Will investigate      Will not investigate          Total
                                       further                further
 Was aware                              17%                      4%                   21%
 Was not aware                          66%                     13%                   79%
 Total                                  83%                     17%                  100%

Only 17% of the respondents indicated that they would not investigate XBRL further,
compared to 84% (66%/79%) who would investigate XBRL further, even though they had
not been not aware of XBRL before the survey. This clearly shows that although the
respondents were generally not aware of XBRL before the survey, they perceived the
concept of XBRL technology to be important to them.

5.3 Implementation, understanding and perceptions of and demand
    for XBRL knowledge/courses
Fifty-seven respondents completed the second part of the questionnaire, since only those
respondents who had been aware of XBRL before this survey were requested to complete
this section. This section consisted of 16 questions focusing on the following:
□ implementation of XBRL at organisational level
□ understanding of XBRL
□ perceptions of XBRL
□ demand for XBRL knowledge or courses


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5.3.1 Implementation of XBRL at organisational level
In order to make a preliminary assessment of the respondents’ understanding of XBRL, the
questionnaire contained questions on the implementation of XBRL at their organisations.
At the time, XBRL was implemented at the organisations of only three respondents and was
being implemented at another three organisations, which might be partially explained by
the low levels of awareness, as discussed in section 5.2. Higher awareness of XBRL and its
benefits should lead to better adoption of XBRL. According to 79% of the respondents, at
the time, XBRL had not been implemented at their organisations, and six respondents
indicated that they did not know.
   Respondents were asked whether they thought their organisation would adopt XBRL in
the future, and when they thought the implementation process would start, if applicable.
Figure 3 Opinions of respondents on whether they thought their organisation would
         adopt XBRL in the future


                                                                  Yes
                                                                  31%


            Do not know
               48%


                                                                    Already
                                                                  implemented
                                                                       5%
                                                         No
                                                        16%

Given that the majority of respondents were in top management (as discussed in 5.2), one
would have expected respondents to have known if XBRL was to be implemented at their
organisations. It could therefore be argued that the 48% of “do not know” answers should
also be interpreted as “no”. Only 31% were of the opinion that their organisation would
implement XBRL in the near future. Only two respondents (9%) indicated that their
organisation would start implementing XBRL in the next year, compared to 43% who opted
for one to two years, 13% after two years and 35% who did not know.

5.3.2 Understanding of XBRL
Table 3 presents the results of a question that required respondents to rate their
understanding of XBRL before this survey.
Table 3    Understanding of XBRL before this survey
 I was aware of XBRL, but did not understand the basic concepts                        45%
 I understand the basic concepts of XBRL                                               37%
 I understand fully what XBRL is about                                                 18%

Only 55% of respondents who were aware of XBRL had some understanding of it. If this
percentage is analysed as a percentage of the respondents who completed the questionnaire,


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only 5% of respondents indicated that they fully understood what XBRL was about, and
10% understood its basic concepts. These low levels of understanding could, however, have
been anticipated given the fact that at the time, XBRL had been implemented at the
organisations of only three respondents and was in the process of being implemented at
another three.

5.3.3 Perceptions of the relevance, impact, benefits and risks of XBRL
Given the low levels of implementation and understanding of XRBL, as discussed above,
this study could not possibly measure respondents’ understanding of the relevance, impact,
benefits and risks of XBRL, but merely assessed their perceptions of these. Six questions
tested respondents’ perceptions of the relevance and impact of XBRL on organisations, the
perceived ease of use of it and its benefits and risks. The results of these questions, as
discussed below, should be interpreted bearing in mind that only 55% of the respondents
who completed these questions had a basic or full understanding of XBRL. This also helps
to explain the relatively large number of “do not know” responses to questions in the
second part of the questionnaire.
   Because software is used both to add XBRL tags to financial information and to interpret
XBRL tagged information, XBRL should be relatively easy to use in practice.
Respondents’ general lack of understanding of XBRL is underlined by the fact that 60% of
them indicated that they did not know what to expect of the ease of use of XBRL, 16%
thought XBRL would be difficult to use, and only 24% thought XBRL would be easy or
moderately easy to use.
   One-third of respondents rated XBRL as being extremely relevant to their organisation
and expected either a big or major impact on the organisations they worked for. Among the
respondents, 43% rated XBRL either as not relevant at all or only somewhat relevant,
compared to 31% who rated XBRL to have no or a small impact on their organisations.
Respectively, 24% and 36% did not know whether XBRL was relevant or what the impact
would be on their organisations.
   Only 36% of the respondents were either fully knowledgeable or had knowledge of the
benefits of XBRL, compared to 62% of respondents who had either no knowledge or little
knowledge of its benefits. One respondent (2%) believed that XBRL had no benefits. The
majority of respondents (57%) foresaw no risks involved in the use of XBRL. Some of the
risks envisioned by the respondents were as follows:
□ The general risks inherent in any electronic data environment and systems apply.
□ “Poor standardisation (vendor driven), leaving early adopters having to redo the same
    work to conform to the latest standards.”
□ There is incorrect tagging of financial information.
□ XBRL taxonomies may not make provision for all scenarios.
5.3.4 Demand for XBRL knowledge or courses
The majority of respondents thought that either they (57%) or someone else from their
organisation (71%) should attend a course on XBRL in the near future. In line with table 2,
which showed that 83% of respondents indicated that they would further investigate XBRL
on the basis of the survey, 85% of the respondents thought that SAICA should be providing
more information about XBRL. These respondents indicated articles in Accountancy SA
(43%) and workshops (28%) to be the preferred method for the delivery of such


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                                                                            Nel & Steenkamp

information. Of the 57 respondents who completed the second part of the questionnaire,
42% had gained their awareness of XBRL either from SAICA communications or
Accountancy SA articles.
   SAICA deems XBRL to be an important topic for CAs and is making an effort to
promote awareness. To this end, SAICA held an XBRL Conference in Johannesburg on 27
November 2007, which 110 persons attended.

6 Conclusion
XBRL is a significant new technology for the electronic communication of business and
financial data and as such is relevant to, inter alia, chartered accountants. Following
research in the USA, in which low levels of awareness of XBRL were identified (53.7% in
2006 and 59.7% in 2007) (Grgeta 2006; McFarland 2007), the objectives of this study were
to research the awareness, understanding, perceptions of and demand for knowledge on
XBRL of chartered accountants in South Africa. Both SAICA and XBRL South Africa
supported the research, because the outcomes would benefit them in their planning of the
way forward with XBRL. A questionnaire was developed and distributed to selected
chartered accountants in South Africa.
   In line with international studies, it was found that at the time, the majority of CAs in
South Africa were unaware of XBRL (research question 1). Only 11% of the respondents
had heard of XBRL and knew what it was about. This was in spite of coverage in
Accountancy SA and the popular press. Few respondents had a sound understanding of
XBRL (research question 2) and did not know whether it would be easy to use. Only a third
of the respondents thought it would have a major impact on their organisations and was
therefore relevant to them. The risks related to XBRL were perceived to be low (research
question 3). At the time, XBRL was implemented at the organisations of only three
respondents and was in the process of being implemented at another three. Possible reasons
for the low implementation rate at the time may have been the lack of understanding of
XBRL in general, and the advantages of XBRL specifically, as opposed to the relatively
low risks and expected ease of use of XBRL. In response to the survey, the majority of
respondents indicated that they would investigate the matter of XBRL in the near future.
More than half the respondents felt that they or someone else from their organisation should
attend a course on XBRL in the next year (research question 4).
   Even though XBRL is a new technology, it will probably soon have an impact on CAs.
This study shows that there is a lack of knowledge among CAs on this technology. In order
to make full use of the ample benefits of XBRL and to be able to address the risks that
might flow from the implementation of XBRL, it is imperative for CAs to educate
themselves on this topic. This article and the conference held by SAICA in November 2007
are among the first steps in this education process.


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