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Financial Translation is a Balancing Act


Financial translation is a balancing act, among style, content, format, and deadlines.

Translators must have solid skills — not just subject-matter knowledge and writing skills – but also the ability to find new translation solutions almost in real time:


  1. Good knowledge of current affairs (political, social)
    The Fed is the Federal Reserve, the US central bank. It is not a company, as I read in one translation into Italian recently!
    Moreover, if a translator does not understand and alter an ECB statement (the European Central Bank, as you may know), it may have an impact on investment strategies or on the client’s reputation.
    The translator must understand the concept before translating into another language. The only way to stay update and understand capital markets or monetary policy is to read newspapers and financial documents.
    Continuous learning is imperative.
  2. Financial jargon is full of acronyms and puns
    Somebody translated DM bonds (developed market bonds, in contrary to EM bonds or emerging market bonds) Deutche Mark (!?)… And when we talk of bulls and bears, guess what may happen.
  3. Plain language and writing skills
    End-readers (most of the time investors) come first. If readers/investors do not understand an investment fund description, they will choose another provider of financial services. Most of the time, literal translation does not work.
  4. Neologisms
    Financial terminology is full of neologisms, just think of the recent US “shutdown” or “tapering.” Each word has a specific meaning in the financial sector and it is associated with a certain policy, and should not be confused with other meanings of the same word. New terms are invented every day (just think at the ECB statements), and language professionals often need to make a decision on a new word, which you will not find in a dictionary and sometimes even not on-line in the target language.
  5. Cultural adaptation
    Cricket or baseball terms – which are often used in US financial documents- mean nothing to investors in Italy. They must be localised or adapted to culture of the country of destination.
  6. Numbers and dates
    Numbers and dates must obviously be correct, especially in financial documents. Moreover, the punctuation or annotation systems for numbers and dates are different in various countries. For example, 11 May 2013: 11/05/2013 in Italian, in American English should be 05.11.2013. To understand dates correctly is very important in financial statements or investment fund factsheets and reports.
    The English “30,000 euros” is “30.000” in Italian, while 1.2% becomes 1,2% in Italian. And 3,0trn should be “3.000 miliardi”.
  7. Currency abbreviations
    Currency abbreviations are common in financial documents and must not be confused with something else, e.g. CAD is the Canadian dollar or RMB is the Chinese Renminbi.
  8. “False” friends
    Hedge funds may be literally translated cover-funds (“defensive”), on the contrary they are high risk funds.
    Fiscal cuts, fiscal cliff, … In American English fiscal may refer to government spending, while in similar context the Italian “tagli fiscali” usually refers only to a decrease in taxes.
    Actual is a very common expression in English. Actual means real or existing. While the Italian ”attuale” is something that is happening now, e.g. current!
  9. Deadlines!
    Last but not least, one of the main criticalities in financial translations are deadlines. As you know, capital markets do not wait. News become old very quickly, and translations are most of the time very urgent.

Each translation industry has of course its issues and difficulties, and many are in common. As an English-Italian financial translator, I focused on my sector of expertise and this list is probably not exhaustive.

Please let me know your opinion and experience.