“Deploying the right technology at the right time is crucial in an international context.”

– Fé Zenner, CFO at ML6
Ontwerp zonder titel 9

Internationalisation at ML6

As technology company ML6 expands its operations beyond Belgium, it now has legal entities in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. These legal entities pose a unique challenge for finance, namely, supporting the internationalisation process from a financial perspective while ensuring the integrity of structures and systems.

ML6 is a rapidly growing machine learning and artificial intelligence provider, experiencing an annual growth rate of 30 percent and employing over 100 staff members today. Fé Zenner explains, “We work for a range of sectors, from manufacturing to the public and healthcare sectors. We provide advice on how companies can harness artificial intelligence to create value and tailor custom solutions based on self-learning systems. Additionally, we offer standardized building blocks for specific AI applications such as quality control in a production process.”

“Learn from Others, but Also Conduct Your Own Research”

“For our internationalisation process, we learned a lot from similar companies that have walked a similar path. The success of internationalisation has been a combination of networking, objectivity, and conducting our own research. A finance professional should not blindly copy everything but can learn a great deal from best practices. Moreover, you must continually conduct your own research.”

“Success Factor of Analytical Accounting”

ML6’s headquarters is located in Ghent. From there, all supporting services are managed for the legal entities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Zenner explains, “Besides myself, the finance team includes a controller and an accountant. With this team, we manage all the legal entities.”

Essential to ML6’s internationalisation was the establishment of an internal P&L based on analytical accounting. “This was effectively a translation of our internal structure and way of working.”

Four legal entities mean four different accounting systems. “Therefore, analytical accounting is consistently applied to avoid different reporting across countries. In each legal entity, we use the same accounting software, namely Exact Online.”

“Originally, we used separate accounting software packages in each country, but we found that this was far from ideal. Additionally, in each country, there is a local partner, an external accounting firm, that supports ML6.”

Read here how ML6’s analytical accounting was set up

“Success in Internationalisation? Strong Partnerships”

While Zenner was not involved in the opening of the respective local entities, she strongly advocates for partnerships in the internationalisation process. “Having the right partners by your side is important.”

“External partners provide structural support to a company and can translate local knowledge. ML6 always strives to be well-informed before making a choice. And that was no different during the internationalisation of our company. Meanwhile, in terms of HR, we have consolidated to one partner across countries to achieve greater uniformity.”

“I don’t rule out the possibility that we will do the same for finance at some point, but that is slightly more complex. You are not only choosing an external accounting firm but also banks. For us, it is convenient if the bank can be added to the multibanking platform ISABEL. All banking matters are also centrally managed, so the digital nature and user-friendliness of these online platforms are important. In some countries, it is better to align with a bank that our local clients are familiar with. Ultimately, we want to build a strong ecosystem where we are sure of having the right partnerships.”

Read here to find out who ML6’s external partners are

“An International Context must appeal to you as a CFO”

According to Zenner, having local entities across borders is intense for the finance team. “It brings challenges, not only in terms of taxation, reporting, or accounting but also in how all countries interact with each other. For example, when consolidating figures or establishing transfer pricing between different countries.”

“With regard to the transfer pricing policy, we have also consciously considered the rapidly growing and potentially changing structures of ML6. Therefore, we have established a dynamic methodology because nothing precludes the need to revise these procedures at some point. That is not an issue. When setting up anything, you must consider the dynamics in which you operate.”

The challenges are intense but also very informative, according to Zenner. “The fact that we are growing quickly and can adapt offers a lot of relief. An international context must resonate with the CFO, despite the intensity it brings. Many things come together, for example, when we close…”

“Automating Data Consolidation”

ML6’s core activities are in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. However, this specific focus on technology means that ML6 must constantly reinvent and adapt itself. “We live in a rapidly changing world, especially in terms of technology.”

These changes also manifest in reporting and accounting. “A dynamic accounting system allows us to make quick adjustments. Additionally, we want to continuously generate insights that are accessible and understandable for our non-finance experts.”

Zenner achieved this by focusing on automation. “We used to be in a financial situation where everything was manually exported from the accounting software. This happened at fixed times but also ad hoc. On one hand, this was very time-consuming, and on the other hand, manual actions inevitably led to errors.”

“Due to the (international) growth and increasing complexity of our accounting, there was a need for a system to replace manual actions and automatically consolidate all data from our various legal entities in an insightful and accessible manner.”

Read here based on which parameters ML6 further focuses on automation

“Internationalisation must resonate with the CFO”

“The international context and evolution of a company must resonate with you. We always think about the future ourselves. Will we have the same processes and P&L when we might have 1,000 employees in a few years? These are questions we cannot answer today. But we are mapping out various options so that we can quickly adapt when the time comes.”

“Organic growth happens step by step. If you had asked me two years ago what the finance team would look like now, I couldn’t have said. That’s why it’s important to look ahead without too much constraint. You must be able to adapt and learn by doing. And mistakes, they are part of it. That’s what I’ve learned from all the start-up and scale-up experiences in recent years.”