No Room for Error: Figures in Financial Translation
June 29, 2020
There is such a saying in the industry of Financial Translation, “substandard translation may be forgiven, but wrong figures are outright intolerable.”
“Figures” often comprise the most important information in all types of financial document including Initial Public Offerings (IPO) prospectuses, annual reports, circulars and announcements, a minor mistake of which could prove costly.
But there are certain inherit risks. For instance, in Chinese, large amounts are grouped by every four digits (instead of three in English) that “萬” stands for ten-thousand, while “億” stands for hundred-million. As there are no direct Chinese equivalents for English units of million and billion, they would be expressed as “100 ten-thousands” (100萬) and “10 hundred-millions” (10億) respectively.
When it comes to figures, one seemingly negligible oversight can amount to a devastating blow. Imagine a listed company reports an annual net profit of “100億” (10 billions) in its financial statements while it actually earned only 1 billion (10億). Investors misled by this inaccurate financial statement could suffer astronomical losses.
“Call Figures” is a specialized quality control process in general financial printers and translation companies, which involves a meticulous review of the figures, names of companies and persons to pick up all errors before the documents go to press. This procedure is particularly crucial for financial translation because on top of a routinely tight time frame, translators often deal with dozens – if not hundreds – of pages of information updates and last-minute data fill-ins. Given the abundance of data in most financial documents and the consequential high risk of human error, “Call Figure” is a necessary safeguard against errors.
IPO prospectuses and annual reports are legally certified by accountants and auditors for accuracy before they are published for disclosure purposes in stock exchanges. There is no doubt that the accuracy of every word matters in these materials and the consequence of failing to deliver perfection is best illustrated in a real-life example.
A Hong Kong-listed company, preparing to put out an announcement, mistakenly recorded “$1 Million” as “$1” in the source material sent to a translation house. Even though the translator, by making references to the context, managed to correct the figure in the translation, the company was still required by the Hong Kong Stock Exchanges to issue a clarification circular as the source text’s error made it to the printer.
Not only are “Call Figure” proofreaders responsible for the accuracy of the translated document, but they should also be able to spot errors in the original documents and raise red flags to the client accordingly to prevent losses arising from inaccurate information.
Nowadays, a financial translation house is expected to do more than maintaining a professional standard of translation quality and keeping the promise of on-time deliveries. To establish a reputation of excellence in the industry, accuracy of all kinds of information must also be robustly assured.
The INTLINGO Group attaches great importance to the “Call Figures” process and has established a vigorous guideline for our quality control specialists. In our every undertaking of “Call Figure”, on top of proofreading figures and names, our team goes an extra mile in checking the formatting, font styles and typesetting. And as tables are common in financial documents, we also deploy specific ruler software tools to review table alignments, making sure no data is misplaced and no mistake goes unnoticed.
There is a lot to watch out in a “Call Figures” exercise. Presentation of numbers across Europe can vary, for instance, “12,345.67” in Britain would be expressed as “12.345,67” in Germany as the two countries swap the dot and comma in their thousands and decimal separators. Under such circumstances, the client’s instructions have to be adhered to avoid any ambiguity of expression.
Furthermore, a figure in brackets often indicates a loss or negative amount. A “$” could represent US Dollars or Hong Kong Dollars. Building areas could be in square feet or square meters. Years can be expressed in Arabic numerals or Chinese characters. The verification of all such details is the expertise of our “Call Figure” specialists.
With so many items to cover in a “Call Figure” exercise, this proofreading process is always conducted line by line and of highest standard in terms of the level of rigor and detail. While we always adopt this process for translation of annual reports, our project managers may also arrange “Call Figures”-style proofreading for other projects where suitable to ensure a flawless delivery to our clients.