Translation of financial texts often requires a different approach: with highly specialised terminology, short deadlines and production of the source and target texts sometimes happening in parallel, there are plenty of points along the way where things could go awry.
We’ve spoken to some of our in-house translators and project managers who are most experienced in this domain to find out what their top tips are for getting a high-quality, timely financial translation.
1. A clear brief sets you up for success
Any translator will tell you the importance of a good brief. A clear set of instructions helps to contextualise the translation job – knowing who the target audience is, for example, may significantly alter the tone and register of the target text.
With more formulaic domains such as financial, however, there is a tendency to overlook the significance of a clear brief. English Translator Rebecca Janota explains: “There’s sometimes the misconception that translating financial texts is self-explanatory. However, a good brief plays a key role in ensuring that the correct terminology is used and that the translation conforms to the company’s style and branding.” She gives a specific example from German: “If the document concerns a SICAV fund, the German term Anteil should be translated as ‘share’, but if it’s classed as an FCP, the term ‘unit’ should be used.” Both SICAVs and FCPs are types of collective investment funds found in different European countries.
Siân Mackie, one of our Senior English Translators, agrees that briefs are helpful for getting the tone right: “Certainly with financial projects it’s always useful to have an idea of the target audience for the text so that you don’t accidentally overcomplicate or oversimplify when translating.”
For certain types of financial texts, such as annual reports, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) have been adopted in many countries around the world. These standards require specific terms to be used for maximum clarity. Danielle Davis, our Nordic–English Team Leader, says: “Knowing whether IFRS terminology applies is very important. If a particular IFRS title is referenced, the correct English name should be used, not a literal translation of the source text.”
Providing copies of the source file laid out in its final form is also extremely beneficial. Our translators all agreed that this could have an impact on how things are translated. Rebecca says: “It’s always helpful to have the source to hand, particularly if it contains tables, graphs and other visual elements as this is not always obvious in a CAT tool.” Siân echoes her sentiments: “The PDF of the original document is really useful for checking how the text is laid out and whether things should be presented/translated in a particular way to ensure an optimum reading experience.”
2. Don’t forget about confidentiality and other regulatory issues
Financial documents such as earnings publications and annual reports often contain information that is commercially sensitive, or even personal data on a private individual’s financial situation. Tom McNeillie, our English Account Linguist Team Leader, says: “Awareness of confidentiality and GDPR is recommended for this domain, especially if translators have access to potentially sensitive information regarding an individual’s wealth or before earnings press releases are published.”
To make sure data stays secure, avoid sending documents for translation in unencrypted email attachments. Instead use a safe file transfer method with access control or upload your documents to a cloud-based CAT tool. At STP, we have technical and policy measures in place to ensure the security of your data at every stage of the translation process. Read more about our security arrangements in this PDF.
Other regulatory issues must also be borne in mind by both translators and those ordering the work. Terminology is something that’s vital to get right – using the wrong term cannot only cause misunderstandings, but may also have legal ramifications. Rebecca explains: “Translations of financial texts must not only respect the client’s style guide and preferred terminology but also comply with statutory regulations.”
“A common financial report that we translate is a Key Investor Information Document (KIID), which must strictly conform in format and content with EU regulations. The CESR’s Template for the Key Investor Information document and Guide to clear language and layout for the Key Investor Information document contain prescriptive wording as well as expressions to be avoided. These guides ensure that the translation is appropriate from a legal perspective.”
Often, we receive documents that have been previously translated and then sent back to us with updates and additions. Rebecca has a top tip when translating updates: “It’s essential to bear in mind that the previous translation may have already been approved by an authority (such as the AMF in France), and so it’s vital you don’t gratuitously alter any of the previous content and closely adhere to the approved terminology.”
3. Know the limits of OCR
Various financial documents requiring translation may exist only in paper format. These are often scanned and processed using optical character recognition (OCR) to convert them into a digital editable format.
Tom notes the impact this can have on the translation process and the effectiveness of translation resources: “We do occasionally encounter segmentation issues due to poor OCR. Another consequence of poor OCR is that match percentages can be affected if characters/letters/words are not recognised correctly, leading to reduced translation memory (TM) leverage or the potential for inconsistencies within a text or TM.” In essence, the worse the quality of an OCR’ed text, the longer the translation process will take and the more potential there is for inconsistencies.
Danielle echoes Tom’s sentiments, adding: “Sometimes we still receive a scanned PDF that can’t be successfully OCR’ed, so we have to type up the text directly into Word. Old-school translation!”
While OCR can be a powerful time-saver, it’s worth bearing in mind that the quality of the output can vary and that this needs to be taken into account in the translation process.
4. Allow as much time as possible
As a rule, financial translations need to be delivered to tight deadlines tied to seasonal events such as the end of the tax year or annual report deadlines. This generates a significant volume of work at the end of the calendar year all the way through to the spring.
Tom explains: “Short deadlines are often a challenge, with relatively little flexibility in the translation process. For the highest-profile corporate annual reports, the documents are often still being written very close to the time of going to press, so the translation is done simultaneously on draft versions. The work can then be subject to rounds of updates to bring it up to date with the client’s final version in the original source language.”
These additional rounds of updates and revisions can sometimes themselves bring unexpected issues to the surface. Rebecca notes: “What can appear to be a minor change to the source can have ramifications for the target, such as changing the syntax completely and requiring the sentence to be retranslated from scratch.” This is something to bear in mind when requesting updates – sometimes a couple of sentences take much more than a couple of minutes to translate.
Siân adds: “Financial texts can sometimes take a little longer to translate if there is a lot of specialist terminology and numbers that need careful checking, but generally speaking there are a lot of great resources for working on these types of texts.”
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5. Trust our experience and expertise
At STP, we have over 20 years’ experience in translation and localisation, and have translated millions of words of financial text into the Nordic languages and from the Nordic languages, German and French into English. We’ve amassed deep knowledge and understanding of best practices for financial translation. One area where we shine is terminology management and the smart use of resources, both internal and external.
All our in-house translators agreed that the best available terminology resources for financial translation are IATE, the EU terminology database which has an excellent search function, and EUR-Lex, the searchable body of EU law. They also mention various IFRS guidelines, as well as general-purpose bilingual resources such as WordReference and WordFinder.
We’ve built up comprehensive in-house term bases and translation memories that put these terms at the fingertips of our translators, and capture words and phrases that don’t appear in external online resources. Asked which resources she uses most for financial translation jobs, Danielle mentions her own personal glossary built up over a decade. She used this to create STP’s internal term bases for Nordic–English jobs, making it easier for everyone in her team to find IFRS-compliant terms.
Tom also mentions his confidence in his colleagues’ knowledge of the financial domain. Asked how his team handles linguistic queries on the source text, he responds: “We would look at them ourselves in-house and try to answer them using our resources and expertise.” Only once this option has been exhausted would we contact the client for further clarification.
A lot of the guidance in this post can also be applied to other similar domains, such as legal translation. However, what’s clear is that financial translation has its own unique set of requirements brought about by a combination of short deadlines, rigid terminology and industry regulation. When selecting your partner for your next translation project, make sure it’s one that has the capacity and experience to deliver the quality of work you need, when you need it.