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45 Business English Terms You Should Know

Want to improve your English business vocabulary? In this study guide, our experienced UK accountant and English teacher Kevin Simmons will walk you through the most useful terms and expressions. We’ve included a list of 45 terms with clear definitions and examples in context to help you feel confident with your business English. Let’s take a look!

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I’ve noticed that many of my English students struggle with business vocabulary. In this study guide, I have created a list of the most useful words and phrases to help you. I have put the terms in alphabetical order, given you an easy-to-remember definition, written some example sentences and provided some synonyms. I have also included some helpful tips and facts from my own experience working in business.

Kevin Simmons, UK Accountant & English Teacher

1. Administration

When a company ‘goes into administration’, it means that the management of the company will be taken over by a qualified professional (a licenced insolvency practitioner). This person is usually appointed by the bank that is owed a lot of money. Administration stops other creditors from taking legal action against the company to get their bills paid. So, it can be seen as a process to ‘buy time’ to save a company that is doing badly financially.

It is possible that a company may, after administration, go into receivership (see 33. below).

Example:
The British retail chain Debenhams went into administration in April 2020. The aim was to protect the company from legal action from its suppliers who are not being paid on time. Without this administration, the company might have gone into liquidation.

Administration has another more general meaning. It means the day-to-day running of a business, such as telephone calls, emails, keeping records and so on.

2. Accountability

Accountability is a word you will often find in business articles when things have gone wrong in an organisation. Accountability is the obligation (need) to explain, justify and take responsibility for your actions.  Grammatically, this is when someone is held accountable for their actions.

Example:
The board of directors are definitely to blame for the collapse of the company. They failed to accept their accountability for their bad business decisions. Surely, they will now be held accountable and asked to leave the company?

3. To break a lease / a break clause

When a company rents a property, it usually needs to sign a rental agreement, which is known as a lease (see 26. below). The lease will be for a period of time (say, a five-year term) and for an agreed rental price per month. The person or company that rents a property is known as the tenant.

If you want to leave the property before the term has expired (finished), then you want to break the lease. You will need to negotiate with the landlord (the owner of the building).

Sometimes the lease document will already have a break clause, which will allow you to leave (give notice to the landlord) at a particular point in time.

Example:
We just can’t afford the rent on this office! Let’s look at the lease to see if there’s a break clause, and if there is, we can give the landlord notice. Then we can find somewhere cheaper.

4. A black hole

A black hole is a term that you read about when something goes wrong with the accounting at a company. The company thinks it has a large amount of money in the bank, but after investigation it tuns out to be a lot less, or even zero! A back hole is always bad news!

Example:
It’s a disaster! We thought we had plenty of available cash, but our accountant was ill for months and when he came back, he found a huge black hole. We are in big trouble!

The famous British coffee chain Patisserie Valerie collapsed a couple of years ago. The company had accounting problems and at first they thought there was a black hole of £20m. But after investigation by specialists and the Police, the black hole turned out to be £94m. Incredible! 

5. The bottom line

The bottom line is an informal term for ‘profit’. It’s very simple.

Example:
We’ve had a great year. The Income Statement has a bottom line of about $400,000.

The bottom line is a term that has another meaning. It means the fundamental and most important thing. An example might be: ‘We can talk about redecorating my office, but the bottom line is that I need a pay rise!’

6. To back / a backer/ backing

When a person starts a business, but the money to start it comes from someone else, that person is called a backer (an investor). So ‘to back’ means to invest the money needed in somebody else’s business. ‘Backing’ is the money (the investment).

Example:
In order to get this new business off the ground, we need to find some backers. Without the right level of backing, we won’t have enough money to start the company. I’m going to ask John and Jim to back us (invest in us).

7. Creditworthy (adjective) / creditworthiness (noun)

When a bank is deciding whether to lend money to a person or a company, it needs to consider whether the person can repay the money. If the bank thinks that the person can repay, then that person is creditworthy (or a good risk). If the person (or company) will not be able to make the repayments, then the person is not creditworthy (a bad risk).

Example:
Good afternoon Mr Simmons. Before we advance (lend) you the money to buy a new car, we need to do some checks to satisfy ourselves that you are creditworthy. 

8. Creditors / (Company) Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)

A Creditors / (Company) Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) can happen when a company starts to run out of cash, and cannot pay all of its suppliers (creditors) on time. The company asks a qualified professional (a licensed insolvency practitioner, see 1. above) to negotiate with the creditors for a structured payment programme. This will usually involve taking a long time to pay, and perhaps paying a lower amount (e.g. 70 pence for every £1 owed).

The CVA is approved in court and the company must follow the new terms agreed with the creditors. This type of agreement is called a compromise agreement. In this context, ‘compromise’ means: to agree something less or smaller than you want.

Example:
The UK based Busaba Thai restaurant chain has had its CVA approved in court, with 81% of creditors agreeing to the proposals. Busaba is the most recent in a long list of restaurant chains that have used the CVA process to protect their company from the coronavirus crisis.

9. Contractor

A contractor is a person or a firm that works on a contract to provide materials or labour to perform a service or do a job.

Example:
The meals for the children at this school are provided by (outsourced to) Schoolcook Ltd, a private contractor. The school does not employ any staff, and all the personnel work for Schoolcook. The school wants to outsource more services to private contractors. 

10. Cash burn (cash burn rate)

When a company is losing money, it needs to be careful that it does not run out of cash. The cash burn rate is the monthly rate at which the cash balances are going down. A synonym would be ‘monthly negative cash flow’.

Example:
The company’s cash burn rate is currently $65,000 per month. At this rate we will run out of cash in 6 months.

11. A concession

In business, a concession is where one business operates physically inside a different business. For instance, at airports, railway stations and department stores there are coffee shops, restaurants and clothes shops. These are concessions and they pay rent in order to use the space they need.

Example:
At Bristol Airport there are many concessions, which include: WH Smith, JD Sports, Superdrug, Starbucks and Burger King. 

A concession has other non-business meanings.

  • A concession is something that is given, especially in response to demands. ‘The government will not make any further concessions in relation to demands made by the National Union of Teachers.’
  • A concession is a preferential rate or allowance given by a government or organisation. ‘As a special concession, the company will allow all staff to buy products from the company at half-price (50% discount)’.

 12. Compliance

In the world of business, compliance is a general word meaning the actions required to make sure that a company and all its employees follow all the laws, regulations, standards and ethical guidelines that the government (and any other organisations with power) put in place.

If a company does not do its compliance properly, it can get a fine from the government or have legal action taken against it. The company can also lose its reputation.

Example:
Most clothing chains have to follow strict compliance standards about the working conditions in the factories in places like Bangladesh, where the clothes are made. 

13. In default / to default

When a company fails to make a payment on time in respect of a bank loan, it is in default on its loan. This is a bad situation because the bank may then have the power to charge additional interest or change the terms of the loan.

Example:
In a dramatic, but expected step, Greece formally defaulted on a $1.7bn payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday. It became the first developed country to default on an IMF loan.

14. Diversification / to diversify

When a company decides to sell different types of products and services, then it is diversifying (or following a diversification strategy). Diversification can create opportunities in new markets.

Example:
Disney has a diversified service range that includes children’s films, Marvel Comics, ABC television network, and cable sports channel ESPN. The company has pursued a diversification strategy whilst remaining loyal to its origins. 

15. Deleveraging

Deleveraging is when a company reduces all of its bank debt by selling assets and businesses. It is the opposite of leveraging, which means to expand by using more and more bank debt.

Example:
Interclimb PLC, which employs 75,000 people worldwide, has presented a plan to improve its financial position by deleveraging, which will reduce its debt to banks by hundreds of millions of pounds. 

16. Due diligence

Due diligence (often shortened to DD) is an investigation to confirm that facts are true. A due diligence investigation can be to do with financial issues, legal issues, property issues, environmental issues or employment issues.

It’s like having a house surveyed before you buy it. In the world of business, companies do their due diligence before committing a lot of money to buy something.

Example:Before we buy this company, we are going to hire a firm of accountants to do a thorough financial due diligence report for us. We are not going to take any risks!

17. Estate

In business, an estate is the collection of outlets (shops or units) that a retail chain has. So, a pub chain might have an estate of 700 pubs and bars all around the UK.

Example:
Wetherspoons is going to invest more than £200m in its pub estate over the next 4 years. It will invest the money in developing new pubs and hotels, as well as renovating some existing pubs in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Estate has a number of meanings in English. They include:

  • An area of land in the countryside with a large house owned by a rich person or family.
  • An area of land with a lot residential housing on it (say 500 houses).
  • All the money owned by somebody who has just died.
  • A 4-door car, with a hatch (as opposed to a boot) at the back, is an estate car. In the USA , this is called a station wagon.

 18. To file

In business ‘to file’ gets used in 3 different ways. These are as follows;

  • To file your Tax Return means to prepare your tax records for the year and send the document to the tax authorities.
  • To file paperwork means to put paperwork away, but in an organised way, so that you can find it in the future.
  • To file for bankruptcy is when a company goes to court and tells the court that it is unable to pay its debts.

Example:
Because we’ve been extremely busy, we are going to be late filing our tax returns this year.
– I have all the papers out on the table. Can you help me file them in the filing cabinet?
– Oh, by the way, did you know that Hart PLC have filed for bankruptcy?

19. A forensic accountant / expert

A forensic accountant produces evidence that can be used in a court of law to help solve cases of theft or fraud. Sometimes the work will be to help settle a financial legal dispute between two companies. So, a forensic accountant is really an investigator into finances; usually trying to find where the money has gone! They often have to speak in court as an expert witness. 

Example:
Forensic accountants mainly work to solve financial crimes to help to deliver justice to the people who have lost money. They work with law enforcement agencies and their report will be presented in a court of law as evidence, in a professional and incisive manner.

20. A guarantee / a personal guarantee/ a guarantor

A guarantee is a written promise that something will be done. An example is the guarantee on e.g. a laptop, that it will be repaired if it goes wrong in the first year. So, a personal guarantee (often shortened to PG) is a promise by one person that they will pay the debts of another person, if that person is in default (see 13.). The person who makes the guarantee, is the guarantor.

Example:
In the last few years, many parents have started to act as guarantors for the mortgages (house loans) of their children. So, the parents sign a personal guarantee that they will pay their child’s mortgage in the event that the son/daughter is not able to keep up with the payments. 

21. A going concern

When you do business with a company, you naturally assume that the company will continue to exist in the future. If the company immediately disappears, then you will have a problem. Being a going concern is an assumption that a company will exist and be able to pay all of its debts for at least 12 months into the future.

Example:
We have a black hole (see 4. above) in our finances. We can’t pay our bills next month. Our company is simply not a going concern and we need to file for bankruptcy (see 17. above).

22. The high street

The high street is a general phrase that newspapers and economists use to mean all the shops in towns and city centres, and shopping centres (malls) in the UK. It is simply a way of using 3 words rather than 10 or 11!

Example:
In the UK, most economists acknowledge that high street market conditions are getting worse, with more and more people shopping on the internet. The role of physical shops is definitely changing. 

23. Inflation

Prices normally go up over time. It’s unusual for prices to go down for very long. So, £1,000 in a year’s time will buy less than it can buy today. This shows that the power of a fixed amount of money goes down over time. That is inflation: ‘the loss of the power of money over time’.

Example:
Most governments agree that keeping inflation low and under control is a good thing. It helps people to understand what their money is actually worth.

Germany suffered from terrible inflation in the early 1920’s which was known as hyperinflation. A loaf of bread that cost 160 Marks in 1922 cost 200,000,000 Marks by 1923. In present times, Venezuela is suffering extreme hyperinflation.

24. Liquidity / liquid assets

If a company is described as ‘liquid’, it means that it has a lot of available cash. Having ‘easy cash’ is very important because no company wants cash flow problems. Liquidity is the measure of how much cash a company has available and liquid assets basically means: cash or assets that can immediately be converted to cash.

Example:
A company may have difficulty in paying its bills on time if it doesn’t have good liquidity.

The opposite of liquid is illiquid. It might be easier to say not liquid!

25. Liquidation

When a company goes into liquidation, it stops trading and all of its assets get sold and turned into cash. A liquidation is a natural result of filing for bankruptcy (see 18. above). Sometimes in shops you see ‘Liquidation Sale!’ This means that all the stock is being sold cheaply and converted into cash because the shop is going to close and stop trading.

Example:
‘London based rock music venue goes into liquidation and 14 employees lose their jobs’. (Newspaper headline) 

26. A lease

When a company rents a property, it usually needs to sign a rental agreement, which is known as a lease (see 3. above). The lease will be for a period of time (e.g. 5 years) and for an agreed rental price per month. A lease can also apply to things like machines and cars. There is a verb ‘to lease’ (e.g. I am leasing this car). 

So, something that is being leased remains in the ownership of the original company who bought it. That company is the lessor, and the organisation that leases (rents) it, is the lessee.

Example:
We don’t actually own anything! We lease everything we use in the business from several leasing companies. We like being a lessee because it makes life easier. 

27. Lucrative

Lucrative is an adjective that means ‘very profitable’. It gets used a lot in business about activities which make a lot of money!

Example:
My brother has a very lucrative career as a lawyer. He makes much more money than me!

28. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A)

Anybody who works in the industry of buying and selling companies or financing companies, is said to work in Corporate Finance. M&A is a part of Corporate Finance. A merger is where 2 companies are joined together to make a bigger company. An acquisition is the purchase of a company. It comes from the verb ‘to acquire’, which is a synonym of ‘to buy’.

When a company is sold, it is known as ‘a disposal’.

Example:
M&A activity has been very strong this year, as many companies want to acquire companies or dispose of parts of their business. This is great news for anyone who works in the world of Corporate Finance.

29. Management Buy-out & Management Buy-in (MBO & MBI)

When a team of employees buy a company from the owner, this is called a Management Buy-out (MBO). This often happens when an owner is getting old and doesn’t want to have the business anymore. The employees are good people to buy the business because they understand it.

When a management team of outsiders buy the company, this is known as a Management Buy-in (MBI). These people don’t know the business as well as its employees, so MBI’s are seen as riskier and more difficult.

Example:
In a Management Buy-out this week, Irish printing company TPI has been sold by its owner and founder Colin Culliton to the current management team.

30. Null and void

Null and void is a formal phrase that means that a legal agreement or contract has been cancelled, is not valid and has effectively never existed.

Example:
Because John was already married to Sue, and had not divorced her, his next marriage to Jan was not legal. The court therefore declared the second marriage null and void.

Null and void is a grammatical collocation (these words live together). The verb ‘to void’ does exist and means to officially declare that something is not legally valid – e.g. The court did not believe his confession that he had committed the murder, and voided his conviction.

31. A player

Sometimes newspapers use the word ‘player’ instead of company.

Example:
There are a number of big players in the UK banking market. 

32. To plunge / to plummet

To plunge and to plummet are verbs used by newspapers to provide an added level of drama when something in business falls very quickly. This could be a share price, the sales of a company, the number of customers or something else that is capable of going down fast.

Example:
Our clients are really unhappy. We did a customer satisfaction survey which showed that confidence in our products has plummeted. No doubt, we are going to see our turnover (sales) plunge over the next few months.

Have a look at entry 38. Below. This covers verbs opposite to this – meaning to go UP very quickly.

33. Receivership

When a company is doing badly and losing a lot of money, then the bank, that has lent a lot of money, has the power to get its money back. The bank can put the company into administration (see 1. above). If the situation is really bad, then the bank can put the company into receivership.

Just like in administration, they will appoint a qualified professional (a licenced insolvency practitioner) as the receiver. The job here is not only to run the company but also to sell the business and assets, in order to repay the bank.

Example:
Tractor wheel manufacturer, Trenton, has been put into receivership. Sterling Bank, that funds the company, applied to the court to appoint a receiver, as they wish to recover the loans which they have made over the last few years. 

34. To right-size

To right-size is a fairly new business verb that has only come into use over the last 10-15 years. In business, it means to reduce the size of a company by shedding (getting rid of) staff. This is usually done by making them redundant. This is a legal process which means that the staff should get some redundancy pay.

Example:
We need to right-size this organisation. We have at least 100 too many staff now that our turnover (sales) has dropped so much. 

There are a number of other verbs that can be used when a company gets rid of staff. To sack and to fire are two idiomatic verbs. To let go is quite polite, but says the same thing. To terminate is quite formal. To axe sounds brutal but means the same thing. To get the boot or the bullet or the chop are idioms – e.g. I got the boot / bullet / chop today’. 

35. A secured loan

A secured loan (or a loan that has security) is one where the borrower gives the lender (usually a bank) the ability to take an asset if the borrower fails to make all the payments on the loan. This process is described as the bank ‘taking a charge’ over the asset.

Example:
Ryan Limited has provided a property as security for our secured loan to them. We’ve taken a charge over the property and so if Ryan Ltd defaults (see 13. above) on the loan, we (the bank) won’t lose any money. 

36. Scalable / To scale up

In business, if a company is described as ‘scalable’, it is capable of being made bigger via repetition. For instance, if you open a shop in a town, and it’s very successful, then in theory you can open identical shops in lots of other towns. You can scale up the business.

Example:
Powertrain Ltd, a UK manufacturer of specialised industrial batteries, has announced that it is going to scale up its production by building 3 new factories in Scotland.

Google is a prime example of a scaled-up business. Google has mastered the formula of adding new customers every year while not increasing the cost base of the business.

37. Stakeholders

In business, stakeholders are any company or person who has an interest in a company. Stakeholders of a company therefore include directors, employees, suppliers, customers, competitors, lenders, neighbours, regulators and the Government. All of these have a reason to be interested in the company and are at some kind of risk if the company does badly.

Example:
Customers are definitely stakeholders in your business. They need to know that your company is going to exist in the future because they may want you to repair the product that you’ve sold them. 

The phrase ‘at stake’ is often used in English. It means ‘at risk’. (e.g. People’s lives are at stake if we don’t find a cure for this illness). Similarly, stake money is the money invested in something. You lose it if the investment fails.

38. To soar / to shoot up

To soar and to shoot up are verbs used by newspapers to provide an added level of drama when something in business rises very quickly. This could be a share price, the sales of a company, the number of customers or something else that is capable of going up fast.

Example:
Our customers are really happy. We did a customer satisfaction survey which showed that confidence in our products has shot up. No doubt, we are going to see our turnover (sales) soar over the next few months. 

(Have a look at entry 32. above that covers verbs opposite to this: meaning to go down very quickly) 

39. A spike

In business, a spike is a sharp increase, followed by a sharp fall in the price or number of something. On a graph, this will look like a sharp peak with a narrow point at the top.

Example:
There has been a spike in the price of oil over the last week because of the positive announcement of the coronavirus vaccine becoming available. 

40. To scrap

To scrap has two completely different meanings. You will be able to tell which one is intended by the context of the sentence. The first meaning of ‘to scrap’, is to fight. Sometimes when two companies are having a dispute or a price war, they can be said to be scrapping.

The second meaning is to stop using an asset (such as a machine) and declare that it has no value (probably because it is old or broken). With this meaning, a synonym is to write off.

Example:
Let’s not disagree and scrap about this. We know that the Mercedes is 15 years old and has done 250,000 miles. It has no value. Let’s just scrap it.

41. A turnaround plan

A turnaround plan is a plan to change a business which is doing badly, into a business which is doing well. There are business consultants who are known as turnaround specialists.

Example:
May I introduce Mr Jones? He is a turnaround consultant and he’s going to prepare a turnaround plan to improve the financial situation of the company.

42. Viable / Viability

In business, the adjective viable is used to describe a company or a plan that has a good chance of success, or that people think can work. Viability is the noun.

Example:
Thanks for sending me your business plan. I think that it’s viable and has a good chance of succeeding. I think that we can lend you the money to start the company. But first, we need to test the viability of the plan by doing some due diligence work (see 16. above).

43. USP (Unique Selling Point)

In business a USP (a unique selling point or proposition) is the feature a company has that makes it better than its competitors. So, to succeed in business, a company must have a USP. Examples of USP include: price, standard or speed of service, guarantees or warranties offered, or build quality of the product.

Example:
The USP of our products is that they are manufactured in the UK. All the other products in the market are imported from abroad.

44. A whistle-blower

A whistle-blower is somebody who discovers something illegal or unethical at a company, who then reports it to the authorities. In the UK, there is a law to protect whistle-blowers so that they cannot lose their job.

Example:
A whistle-blower has been awarded $2 million in damages by a court, after the company he reported to the authorities fired him (see 34. above) from his job.

45. A winding-up order

A winding-up order is a legal process to force an insolvent company to pay a bill that it is trying not to pay. An insolvent company is one that has more liabilities than assets, and so it will be finding life very difficult.

The winding-up order needs to be agreed in a court and will force the company to pay the bill because if it doesn’t then it will be put into liquidation (see 25. above).

Example:
The company was issued with a winding-up order over a £500,000 unpaid tax bill, after which it was put into liquidation.

 

Want to improve your English for work in Business and Finance? You’re in the right place! Our experienced UK teachers offer bespoke 1-to-1 training via Skype/Zoom to build your confidence and fluency fast. Contact us today for your free consultation and see how we can help you reach your goals.

Test your knowledge: Business vocabulary exercises

Exercise i.

Follow the story about Foster PLC in the following sentences and complete them with the most suitable accounting term a-c (based on the context).

  1. Foster PLC is in the news today because a ____________ has been found in its finances. Lots of money is missing.
    a. A black hole.    b. An estate    c. A spike
  2. The company is now___________ in respect to the $7 million bank loan it took out last year to build a new factory.
    a. lucrative    b. in default      c. null and void
  3. The directors of the company are very worried because they have all signed ­­­­­_________________ in respect of the bank loan.
    a. An estate     b. personal guarantees  c. a winding up order
  4. Foster PLC is one of the biggest_____________ in Europe in the replacement window sector.
    a. Spikes   b. stakeholders    c. players
  5. It has been agreed that a firm of___________________ will be appointed to investigate the missing funds.
    a. forensic accountants    b. players                    c. whistle-blowers
  6. And there is no doubt that many people will have doubts about the____________________ of the company.
    a. concession.     b. accountability       c. creditworthiness
  7. The directors will have to work very hard to maintain the______________ in the business, so that it can pay its suppliers.
    a. liquidity     b. inflation      c. cash burn
  8. Another very worrying trend in the industry is that customer demand has__________________ over the last year or so.
    a. soared     b. plummeted     c. shot up
  9. As a result of all this, it is probable that the Foster will need to be______________________ in order to stay in business.
    a. filed     b. scrapped    c. right sized
  10. Almost certainly that will be the only way that Foster PLC can remain a______________________.
    a. going concern     b. concession     c. estate

Exercise ii.

Match parts 1-5 with a-e to make complete sentences.

  1. The lack of accountability has
  2. The machine was wrecked by the electrical surge last night,
  3. The shop in London has done really well
  4. Our estate of shopping outlets
  5. The method used to try to break that lease was not legal

 

  1. so, we are going to scrap it.
  2. has nearly 100 concessions operating within it.
  3. so, the agreement reached is probably null and void.
  4. lowered public confidence in the political system in that country.
  5. so, let’s scale up the business by copying that shop in more cities.

Exercise iii.

Choose the correct synonym a-c for each account term word. 

  1. To back.
    a.
     to invest in     b. to file      c. to scrap
  2. The bottom line
    a. the spike   b. profit   c. estate
  3. Deleveraging
    a. not paying bills   b. scrapping an asset   c. reducing debt
  4. A spike
    a. A slump    b. a sharp increase    c. a cash burn
  5. I’ve filed my tax return.
    a. copied   b. sent in   c. scrapped
  6. The company is planning to diversify.
    a. do an MBO   b. move into another sector   c. reduce its debt
  7. We are testing the viability of the plan.
    a. ability to succeed   b. scalability   c. lucrative
  8. It’s a really lucrative
    a. in default   b. profitable   c. viable
  9. The high street
    a. contractors    b. estates   c. the retail sector in town and city centres
  10. Inflation
    a. administration   b. the loss of purchasing power of money over time    c. spikes

Answers

  1. 1/a 2/b   3/b   4/c   5/a   6/c   7/a   8/b   9/c   10/a 
  2. 1/d   2/a   3/e   4/b   5/c
  3. 1/a   2/b   3/c   4/b   5/b   6/b   7/a   8/b   9/c   10/b
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Kevin Simmons — Financial English Tutor
Kevin S.
— Financial English Tutor
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