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Not What You Think It Is!

When I say I am an English>Italian financial translator, most people shudder. They imagine me at my desk translating annual reports and crunching numbers all the time. Actually, this is only a marginal part of my business. Financial translation comprises many different sub-sectors and areas that sometimes overlap, including insurance or legal concepts.

Looks like Yoda at a museum?!? It may be not what you think it is
The Triad: Accounting + Economics + Finance

Accounting focuses on communicating a company’s financial information. An investor may use accounting to see whether a company has recorded past financial success and to predict what the company will look like in the future. Financial statements are drafted under a standardized set of accounting laws, which allows comparing companies and their financial health (International Financial Reporting Standards – IFRS).

Accounting documents are a big source of work for financial translators and may be a profitable specialisation.  However, the workflow is often concentrated in one or two months of the year in most countries, because reports must be submitted to the authorities or published at a certain date. They include annual, quarterly and half-year reports that usually comprise a general presentation, overview of the industry and of the company’s activities (Board of Directors’ report), financial statements with tables and data, and the notes on accounting criteria and items explained in detail.  The balance sheet is a picture of assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity at a certain date (e.g. at year-end), while the profit and loss account – or income statement – shows the flow of costs and revenues during the year under review. It is a mix of numbers, technical data and terminology, as well as the description of activity depending on the company’s industry (bank, energy, industrial, insurance, etc.).

Economics is a social science that analyses the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. It focuses on how economic agents (people, businesses, and government) interact and make decisions. Macroeconomists study aggregate indicators such as Gross Domestic Product, unemployment rates, and prices to understand how the whole economy functions. In contrast, microeconomics focuses on the actions of individuals such as firms and consumers. A company uses commodities and labour to achieve its goal.

Market commentaries and market outlook often include both macroeconomic and microeconomic concepts (describing the performance of funds and/or companies).

Finance is the study of how to allocate assets—how individuals and organizations should invest assets in order to get the highest possible return over time.

Capital markets that are accessed by both companies and the government. When a company needs capital, it can issue bonds or shares. When a company is listed on the Stock Exchange, it needs to translate a lot of documents: notices to shareholders, annual reports, offering memorandum, etc.

Reforms and new directives constantly change the way financial services are given to the public (with all related documentation). Just think to the introduction of the MIFID Directives or FACTA.

Investment management refers mainly to asset and fund management. Investment funds need to keep investors and other stakeholders informed on a timely and ongoing basis.

Communication and Marketing

Beyond financial statements, companies produce many documents on a daily basis. They sign agreements, draft minutes during meetings, letters to shareholders, press releases, they publish websites, launch new products and services, pitch to potential clients, and submit reports to the authorities. Companies may need restructuring, list on the Stock Exchange, go bankrupt or merge with other companies, producing the relevant documentation.

Audit and Compliance

After the financial crisis, institutions strengthened controls by independent authorities, such as due diligence and stress tests. While internal auditing monitors compliance, external independent auditors certify the company’s financial statements as a fair view of the company’s activities, producing reports and certification that may need translation.


The banking sector dominated the news during the financial crisis, and new requirements were introduced (capital adequacy, risk management, stress tests, market liquidity, conflicts of interest). It is a wide sector with some key concepts, such as loans and deposits (impieghi e raccolta in Italian), that are often misunderstood by non-expert translators.

International Trade

Globalisation in general and transactions with foreign clients increased translation needs. Common Sense Advisory found that 75% of consumers prefer to buy products in their native languages, especially for expensive services, such as investments or insurance policies (see “Don’t speak my language, I won’t buy your financial services”).

As a financial translator, you must know what kind of documents you are going to translate, and what opportunities you may find. Opportunities are plentiful and diverse.


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