Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

The Future Is Now: XBRL Emerges as Career Niche: Students, Employers Say Knowledge of Data-Tagging Language Provides Edge in Job Market

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

The Future Is Now: XBRL Emerges as Career Niche: Students, Employers Say Knowledge of Data-Tagging Language Provides Edge in Job Market

Article excerpt


* Accounting school students and CPAs with XBRL knowledge and experience have an edge in competing for jobs because of an SEC mandate that thousands of U.S. public companies file financial reports with XBRL tagging, which translates the data into a language computers can understand. This will lead to tools that allow for nearly instant, targeted searches of financial information among many companies, such as for net income among all energy companies that own nuclear plants.

* Organizations doing XBRL tagging include publicly traded corporations and companies known as filing agents. All organizations that do XBRL tagging are looking to hire CPAs and other accountants because knowledge of GAAP and other standards is essential to the job.

* A 31-year-old accountant leveraged his XBRL education to land the job leading the XBRL team at energy giant Southern Co.

* CPAs interested in learning about XBRL should start by looking at public company XBRL financial filings at

* The Maryland Association of CPAs implemented XBRL for certain financial and key performance indicator reports. The project shows the potential of XBRL for nonprofits, which could use the data standard to produce more-accurate Forms 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, in less time.

* Congress is considering legislation that would require all federal agencies and recipients of federal funds to use a nonproprietary data standard, such as XBRL, to file spending reports.


Opportunity rarely knocks. Life isn't that easy. Instead, it hides and waits. Our job is to find it and recognize it for what it is. Those who do are rewarded handsomely.

As Exhibit A, consider Jeff Petka, a 31-year old accountant with Atlanta-based energy giant Southern Co.

In 2009, Petka was walking down a Southern Co. hallway with his supervisor, Bonnie Westbrook, when he caught sight of something familiar on a screen in a conference room.

"Hey, I know that," he told Westbrook. "That's Dragon Tag."

Indeed, it was. Dragon Tag was an XBRL tagging and validation tool produced by Rivet Software (the company has since replaced it with an updated version called the Crossfire Financial Reporting Platform). Petka had learned how to use Dragon Tag while studying XBRL as part of an accounting information systems (AIS) course taught by Ernest Capozzoli, Ph.D., at suburban Atlanta's Kennesaw State University Petka's XBRL knowledge paid off. He immediately gamed a spot on Southern Co.'s XBRL team, and when the team's leader took another job m the company, the XBRL ball fell into Petka's hands. He has been running with it ever since.

"I've taken over the XBRL side at Southern Co. and have helped it grow," said Petka, who is working on earning his CPA. "(Knowing XBRL) has improved my career exponentially It has given me a valuable niche in the company."


XBRL, or extensible business reporting language, is not new. Supporters have been touting XBRL's potential for years. After a three-year phase-in, the SEC now requires all U.S. public companies to file their financial reports using XBRL.

The SEC mandate has created a lot of extra work for public companies. XBRL tagging is complex (see sidebar, "What's All the Fuss About XBRL?") and, while a slew of software tools make it possible for non-tech gurus to apply the tagging, doing so properly requires knowledge of accounting standards, especially GAAP in addition to understanding XBRL. It's difficult to find professionals proficient in both areas, creating opportunities for CPAs with XBRL skills.

In early April, data from XBRL US, a spinoff of the AICPA that now consists of a consortium of organizations with an interest in XBRL, showed that more than 8,000 public companies had filed more than 30,000 XBRL submissions since the SEC's mandate first went into effect in 2009. …

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