Financial experts say the new system will be an essential tool for investors. This comes at a time when Americans have lost confidence in Wall Street analysts to make calls on investments in the wake of financial scandals such as Enron and the mortgage crisis. In fact, according to a recent poll, only 30% of 1,046 Americans questioned in a CNN opinion poll earlier this year said they have confidence in Wall Street experts to make the right decisions for them. “Needless to say, investor confidence has been deeply shaken, and restoration of investor confidence is an essential element to moving the nation’s economy forward. The SEC is taking several steps to help restore investors’ badly shaken faith in our securities markets,” said SEC Chairman, Mary L. Schapiro, in a recent speech.
“I think more data is good. It will give the individual investor more control over their destiny and give them greater confidence that they are making more informed decisions, says Ken Autrey, fund manager with the KEADA Capital Investment Fund in Glendale California. The SEC’s new reporting system will allow investors to freely and easily analyze financial data for themselves and not rely solely on the ratings and opinions of third party researchers, said Amy Pawlicki, director of business reporting assurance and advisory service with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
If nothing else, the stock market meltdown last fall and winter laid bare the subjective nature of security ratings. Firms in the ratings business, such as Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard & Poors gave many mortgage-backed securities their highest assessments; signaling to investors that they were good, sound investments.
IDEA is expected to save investors a great deal of time. Data that once took hours to compile can be accessed in minutes or less. One of the frustrating aspects of Edgar was that investors had to open separate Web pages and scroll through several screens of coded headings to find documents. Think of IDEA as a browser within your Web browser. Once you’ve identified a company report to view, the site saves it as a tabbed page, so you can flip between it and another filing to, say, compare revenue results from different quarterly periods. One key advantage of IDEA: users can now download financial information and import it into a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel. For the first time, average investors will be able look at data from multiple companies displayed side-by-side. Perhaps most important, IDEA can save investors money. It can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to get anything comparable to this information about multiple companies, says Autrey.
IDEA will be phased in over the next two and a half years. This month, approximately 500 of the largest public companies with market caps above $5 billion will begin filing interactive reports. All U.S. companies are required to file interactive financial statements by December 2011.
Also starting in 2011, mutual funds will be required to include data tags in their public filings that supply shareholders with such information as objectives and strategies, risks, performance and costs. When this goes live, investors will be able to compare more than 8,000 mutual funds at the click of a mouse.
To test drive the new interactive data Web site go to http://viewerprototype1.com/viewer.