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Common problems faced in the translation of finance documentation

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in Finance and Insurance

There are few industries more global than the finance sector across the world. We just need to look at the way the UK’s Brexit vote, and the subsequent fall in the pound that came with this in late June, and how this had a knock on effect on the rest of the globe’s financial sectors and currencies to see this is the case.

However, one issue that can come up with the cross-border nature of the finance sector rears its head in the translation of documents. Deals are often done cross border, and finance information documents being sent across the world, even within the same company, need to be translated into a range of target languages to ensure that everyone knows what they need to know to get the job done.

When we consider that speed is an absolutely essential factor in the finance world, it can only deepen the challenge, with the correct balance needing to be struck between speed and quality in the translation.

Finance and languages

English is generally accepted as the global language of finance, with most of the financial markets across the world operating in this language, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. According to Investopedia, when it comes to investment and finance sectors, Spanish has become a more prominent language to speak in financial circles, even among those working in the US.

Other common languages in finance often relate to some of the world’s biggest economies and stock exchanges. For example, Forbes quotes the USA’s New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as having a market cap of $13.4 trillion (£10 trillion), making it by far the largest in the world. This is followed by the NASDAQ, also from the US, with a market cap of $3.9 trillion, making the two a very powerful force. For this reason, it’s little surprise that English is seen as the language of finance.

However, other large stock exchanges are spread across the globe, including the Tokyo Stock Exchange ($3.8 trillion), Euronext ($2.9 trillion), Shanghai Stock Exchange ($2.7 trillion) and Toronto Stock Exchange ($2.2 trillion), and for this reason, languages such as Japanese, Mandarin, French and German are also prominent in finance.

Getting it right when translating into these languages is vital, as one mistranslated word or sentence can mean thousands of pounds lost. But what are the common pitfalls that translators need to look out for when translating finance documents?

The world of numbers

While everyone will understand the fact that nuances in the wording of documentation in financial sectors is important, it’s easy to forget that numbers, although more universal, also have subtle differences in different countries, which can lead to real misunderstandings.

Cultures Connection said one problem can emerge when translators stumble over the issue of punctuation in numbers. For example, in English speaking countries, 1,500 would be one thousand five hundred, but in some European nations, the comma being after the first digit would make this number 1.5, so it’s vital that translators pay attention to very subtle differences like these, or they risk presenting a very different scenario in their documents than they intended to.

There can also be issues when it comes to simple things like what certain countries call each number. For example, 100 million in the UK translates to 1 billion in the US, and completely different phraseology is used in French and Spanish speaking countries, which can cause real confusion when documentation is translated.

Technical terminology

While a translator will be able to carry out a straight translation of one document to another quickly, there are other challenges when it comes to sectors like finance. It is an industry that has a high volume of different technical terminology, regardless of language, which exists only in finance, often leaving it untranslatable.

Technical terms that are self explanatory to people in the origin language can sometimes take some explanation in the target language, so it’s absolutely vital that a quality financial translator has the ability to not only translate, but also possess a deep understanding of the sector and its dedicated language, in order to be able to cross this particular hurdle. Quality translators for the sector need to not only be quick and fluent in target languages, but also need to be finance experts with a knowledge base that allows for effective translations to be used throughout the world.


Finance is a very tricky sector to deal with, particularly when it comes to translation. Speed is a vital part of the industry, with translations needing to be carried out quickly to ensure that deals can be completed and markets understood in a very global sector. But this doesn’t mean that quality can be overlooked, especially when it comes to such a volatile and finely balanced sector as finance, where one misunderstanding can lead to drastic problems.

A skilled translator in the financial sector needs not only a strong knowledge of the languages involved, but also needs to be au fait with the nuances and technicalities that exist to be able to provide a flawless translation that allows for seamless operations across borders.

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