email target training

Finance Emails: Quick Tips for Clarity

Writing clear finance emails can be a challenge at times

Because the email was confusing, the wrong cost center was used; because the wrong cost center was used, the payment was late; because payment was late, penalties were charged; because penalties were charged, the contract went over budget; because the contract went over budget, the client was unhappy; because the client was unhappy, they gave their next contract to a competitor….. and all because of a confusing email.

Example situations of finance emails

You’re covering for a colleague who is on holiday for three weeks. In the middle of the month you get the following email from one of the suppliers they deal with:

“Would you mind making payment by the end of the month? If not, there’s a chance that penalties might be applied which could possibly cause a bit of delay to delivery of goods. Would it be possible for you to use the usual cost center? That would be great.”

No, you don’t mind, but “might”? “Chance”? Will there be penalties or not? Is the end of the month the last working day or the last calendar day? How long is “a bit of a delay”?  Yes, you can use “the usual cost center,” but what is it?
Two days ago, at month closing, I got a frantic call from one of the finance teams I train. They’d received an email that would have made Ebenezer Scrooge scratch his head. They had one simple question — what did this person want and when?

Tips for making your finance emails clearer

There are many words and phrases used in English to soften a message. However, in some situations it’s essential that politeness doesn’t compromise clarity. Email communication about finance is exactly one of those situations.
The most important point of your email is the action you want taken. For clear finance emails, my tips are:

  • Limit your requesting language to “please” at the start of the first sentence
  • Avoid the words “quite,” “some,” “a bit,” “a chance,” “possibly”
  • If there’s a deadline, give the date or time
  • If there’s important information, for example a cost center number, write it in the email. That way there will be no confusion. You also don’t know if the person you’re writing to will deal with the email
  • Save any messages of thanks to the sign off. A simple “thanks in advance” is enough

Let us know if you have any advice for finance emails in the comments area below.  For more information on how to improve your writing at work, click here.