Journal of Financial Market Infrastructures

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A linguistics approach to solving financial services standardization

Richard Charles Robinson

  • Creation or enforcement of a 'universal' common financial language, is a fool's errand and not practically achievable, supported by existing research literature.
  • Recognition that multiple financial language 'geographies' and/or 'domains' exist, are appropriate, and definition of those languages is a needed first step. Applied linguistics is a necessary and viable approach.
  • Pure standardization is not a solution. Ontologies (multiple) like FIBO and standard dictionaries like ISO20022 are critical, but are not the whole of any eventual solution.
  • Regulators should focus on resolving jurisdictional friction and shared understanding, not mandating individual data standards as a shortcut to 'harmonization'.
  • The financial industry needs a global coordinating body across language domains to quarterback interoperability efforts and best practices.

Global regulators in the financial industry have increasingly referred to the need for a universal “common financial language” to solve issues of perceived nonstandardization and to simplify the tasks of oversight and properly functioning markets. The author cautions, however, that there can be no common financial language for practical reasons, examples of which are presented. Language-related issues are better explained and examined through the lens of applied linguistics, intertwined with current and evolving standards, advanced work in ontologies and already-established dictionaries. It needs to be recognized that real language differences exist which can- not be reconciled or standardized across the entire financial domain; instead, there should be a focus on defining financial language geographies (ie, bounded communities that speak the same language) and points of interoperability (ie, translation). A shared understanding of meaning does not translate to a single, shared definition, for it may be recognized in various contexts or by multiple views. This requires multiple tools and approaches, which cannot be provided by the regulatory mandating of specific data standards. Based on referenced industry and academic work over the past twenty-five-plus years, the author proposes steps to be taken that would better serve regulators and industry in reaching their goals, while also providing the industry with a foundation for better interoperability, communication and standardization.

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