You’ve heard me say it before, and you’ll hear me say it again: The Devil’s in the details.
And there are very few places where details are more important than in Finance. Accountants (of any form) are very particular about getting things exactly right. They have good reason to be; one small mistake could end up costing a company millions. You want your finance department to be anal-retentive.
Every culture has its own traditions, and every government its own regulations when it comes to money–especially in the world of business. When you start dealing with international business, however, you run into an interesting problem–words. Simple words like “invoice” and “receipt”. English has become the lingua franca for international business. But the words we use in English don’t always directly translate with the ideas and practices in other countries and cultures.
Invoice Before Receipt
It’s a discussion I’ve had over and over: What is an invoice and what is it for? My simple explanation is that an invoice says “Please pay me”, and a receipt says “Thank you for paying me”. I’ve had more than a few arguments with Chinese accountants about this. To them, an “invoice” is a specific type of legal document containing a company chop, and used for tax purposes((I don’t know the details, I deal with words, not money.)). Some will get quite vehement that “that is not an invoice!” And, they’re right–in China. The issue isn’t that they don’t know what an invoice is, it’s that our cultures and businesses use the same English word to describe very different concepts.
When working in international business, we have to understand that we might be saying the same thing, but meaning something quite different. This is one the reasons we rely on employees and consultants with local knowledge to help us. A native understanding of not only the language, but the way in which it’s used can mean the difference between a long business relationship and a long conversation with a government agent.