Every company has a unique culture - from their strategy and their operating model all the way to their language. As someone who worked in corporate America for many years prior to launching my own translation business, I experienced first-hand how particular companies can be about the words they use to describe their business and everyday operations. My former employer even invented their own incoterm! It is important that translators (and especially financial translators) realize that customers do indeed have a strong preference with regards to terminology to ensure that our customers are satisfied with our translations. Always follow client glossaries as closely as possible.
The tricky thing is that not all companies may be aware of their strong preference for some terms over others. That's why it is absolutely critical for translators to work with clients in advance to come up with a client glossary if the client does not already have one. It is impossible to provide a high-quality translation if we don't know what our clients want to begin with.
Are there really that many different ways to say the same thing in financial translation?
Oh yes, indeed!
Some companies prefer to say revenue, some go for revenues, some use the word turnover, others choose sales or sales revenue. Some companies record expenses in their general ledger, others recognize expenses, while others account for expenses. Similarly, a balance sheet, statement of financial position and statement of financial condition are all synonyms. Profit and Loss statements (or P&Ls) also have several synonyms, such as statement of profit and loss, income statement, statement of financial results, statement of operations, and income and expense statement, and chances are highly likely that your client prefers one of those terms over the other in all of the above cases. This is also the case for the industry-specific terms that customers use to describe their business.
I realize that a lot of financial translators have their own preferred terminology - I know I do - but ultimately, we need to set our preferences aside if they do not align with those of our clients.
So, you have a client that does not have their own glossary. What do you do?
- First, propose your own glossary that contains all the terms you like best, and ask the client to review it.
- Offer to work with them to create their own customized glossary if they want to make extensive changes to the glossary you proposed, or if they want you to create a completely new one based off of their old reports or website (at an additional cost, of course). You can either do this manually by looking through old reports, or you could try a terminology management tool with a term extractor (I highly recommend buying Jost Zetzsche's The Translator's Tool Box: A Computer Primer for Translators to help you decide which tool would work best for you).
- Follow the glossary! Most, if not all, translation software programs enable users to upload glossaries or have built-in terminology management tools that will help you ensure that you follow their terminology preferences to the letter. They also help ensure that your translation remains consistent throughout those long, 500+ page reports.
Financial translation is considered a highly-specialized niche for a reason. Ensuring that you accurately translate not just your customer's reports, but also their corporate culture and voice, will keep them coming back to you year after year.