A large majority of the population spend their lives working in a single country, even if they do switch careers or employers from time to time. They could be forgiven for thinking that businesses are organised according to similar principles from one country to the next and that the positions and roles within businesses are pretty much equivalent. However, this is not the case. Every country, just like every business, has its own way of doing things. Depending on a country’s specific historical and economic context (i.e. Was it a colony? Where did its immigrants come from? Who were its trading partners?), laws and systems emerge that can, from the outside, seem quite peculiar.
Problematic for translators?
Translators often have to find the nearest equivalents for names, qualifications and terminology that are quite common in the source language, but don’t exactly exist in the target language. In this post we’re going to take a look at a position commonly found within German companies and corporations, the “Prokurist” and see exactly what they do, what they don’t do, and what the international equivalents of this role might be.
The origins of the German “Prokurist” are to be found in Imperial Rome. A fiscal procurator was basically a province’s CFO, managing the province’s financial affairs alongside a governor who looked after the military side of things. A procurator was in charge of collecting taxes and rents, managing imperial assets and handling the army’s payroll. The procurator/governor system was set up by emperors who didn’t want too much power concentrated in a single pair of (potentially rival) hands. The word procurator comes from the Latin verb procurare, which roughly means responsible representative. Procurators were the direct representatives of their emperor and therefore enjoyed a substantial degree of decision-making freedom in managing assets, business interests and money.
A couple of thousand years may have passed since the Roman Empire’s heyday, but the concept of the procurator is still alive and well, reshaped to meet the requirements of modern business throughout Germany. Prokura, the explicit authorisation given to selected senior managers or directors within a company, is explicitly regulated in German law and allows a Prokurist to make commitments on behalf of his or her organisation, including:
- hiring and dismissing employees,
- opening and managing branch offices,
- expanding the company’s operative business sectors,
- taking on loans, and
- generally overseeing the company’s entire operations.
These individual rights can be restricted somewhat, for example by creating a group of Prokuristen so that no single representative has sole authority, or by explicitly limiting the Prokura to a single office or branch of a business.
What’s not allowed
Although this rights are fairly wide-ranging, there are a number of limits set out in law regarding what a Prokurist is not permitted to do:
- sign the company’s financial statements,
- wind down the businesses,
- file for bankruptcy,
- sell the businesses,
- change the legal form of the company, or
- award Prokura powers to others
So what are the international equivalents and non-equivalents?
Well, as mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, it’s not really possible to say that Prokurist in English is x, y or z. It really does depend on the context (both geographic and legal). It will often make the most sense to simply use a person’s other job titles, as the Prokurist is never just a Prokurist. Alternatively, commonly used equivalents are:
– Company/corporate secretary – senior manager in the UK or US primarily responsible for ensuring regulatory and statutory compliance and for ensuring that board level decisions are implemented. They liaise with the authorities, communicate with shareholders and are authorised to sign documents on the company’s behalf.
- Authorised representative – particularly in the EU, a representative of a non-EU manufacturer who wants to sell their goods within the EU. A formal contract between manufacturer and representative is required.
- Authorised signatory/officer – an officer or representative given the power to commit the authorising organisation to binding agreements. Also known as a signing officer. This often comes closest to the German Prokurist.
- Signing officer – an alternative to authorised signatory, also widely used.
- Proxy – more commonly used in the context of authorising someone to vote on your behalf, whether in a general election or at a shareholders‘ meeting.
Whatever term you choose, please don’t use procurator or procurist!
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