Former Analyst Offers to Upgrade SEC Filing Data for Free

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Maris Jensen is a woman on a mission. She is nearly single-handedly attempting to pull the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into the 21st Century. Or, at least into the latter part of the last century.

"In March last year, I told my boss at the Securities and Exchange Commission that our website was terrible and we needed to do something about it," she says. She's direct like that. Straight to the point, unfiltered. In fact, she was fired from her job as an SEC analyst for displaying "a lack of respect for senior management." She claims those were their exact words.

"Specifically, it was for 'profanity unbecoming a federal employee' and for referring to a meeting as a 'dog and pony show,'" Jensen cheerfully admits.

So, just how is she trying to upgrade the SEC? By making the agency's data more accessible.

"We needed to build a user-friendly Website for retail investors, one that walked non-professionals through the data in SEC filings and helped them research companies," Jensen says. "This is public data we're talking about; it should be easy for the public to use. The SEC knows that this is a problem: they've spent millions studying how to improve public access to the data with task forces, initiatives and all the rest -- and they spend over $3.5 million each year buying back SEC filings data in usable form from commercial vendors for internal use. But in the past 20 years, nothing has actually gotten done."

So she built the Website herself. Now make no mistake, Jensen is not a coder. We're talking comparative literature at Princeton, grad school at Georgetown for math -- and financial engineering at Columbia. Smart, but not a programmer. She says she began by Googling 'How to build a website.'

"I actually started the project with just the back-end in mind -- back then, I didn't even know any of this dataviz [data visualization] stuff was possible," she says.

But she was aware that accessing EDGAR (the SEC's Electronic Data-Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system) data was a problem.

"The economists in my division who were supposed to be working with SEC filings were floundering," Jensen said. "These guys have PhDs in quantitative fields and years of programming experience; they still couldn't figure out how to pull data from their own database. But that's not a slight against them, because the data is a mess. Incidentally, they're now outsourcing this work -- they're literally paying others millions and millions to write programs I offered to them for free."

You heard right. She has offered to hand over the entire project to the SEC. After months of studying the data, deciphering foldering schemes, writing parsers for markup languages from the '80s, analyzing documents and coding programs to pull all of that data together she simply wants to donate the functioning website ( RankandFiled.com) to the government.