PERHAPS it’s a testament to how far corporate reporting and disclosure have come, but there was a time when shareholders had no way of knowing exactly how much they were paying senior executives to run their companies.
Then came new regulations and companies began to disclose more precisely how much their top executives were being paid — as a group. And then came disclosure of compensation on an individual basis. Remember what a fuss that caused?
Still, most of that executive compensation information was hard for shareholders to unearth and understand. Trying to compare pay practices across two or three companies, never mind an entire industry, was tedious and time consuming. Cut and paste, download PDF, cut and paste…
It mostly still is like that, but last December the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) undertook a major project to convert pay figures in the regulatory filings of 500 large companies from standard text to intelligent Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL).
The SEC’s objective in doing so was to show investors how XBRL or “interactive data” could improve their ability to research and compare company information in ways that had not been possible before. At the same time, the SEC made the XBRL-tagged pay data available to any developer who wanted it.
Enter Christopher Smith, CTO of iBanknet.com, a free bank research website that has been doing innovative things with the XBRL data that the 8,200 banks in the US are required to file with banking regulators in their “call reports.”
He took the SEC’s XBRL executive pay data and created the widget you see below. This widget, which I think of as a “pocket” version of the SEC’s XBRL pay viewer, can be added to any web page, including a Facebook profile page, or personal homepage like iGoogle, in just one click.
Or you can do what I did and cut and paste a single line of code into a web page. Whatever the case, in a second or two you can take what was once buried in 500 gray, unstructured blobs of HTML and make it available anywhere on the Web in a way that is really simple to use.
So how does it work? Well, for you it’s simple. Just click on one of the industry links, choose a company, then select the executive whose pay details you want to see.
Alternatively, enter a ticker symbol of a company you’re interested in, say “T” for AT&T. This will give you a list of reporting officers for the company. Click on any of their names to then see details of how much they were paid. In the case of AT&T, Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. was paid $60,726,924.
There is a growing number of these mini applications or widgets in the finance area springing up on the Web. I’ve written about some of them before, and we will continue to see more of them in the future.
Says Smith, whose company also provides styled XBRL call report data for banks’ websites: “I can’t wait until there is more XBRL content. I think you are going to see a lot of creative developers doing some awesome stuff.”
That time is coming sooner than most people think.