Ripjar, founded by GCHQ alums, raises $36.8M for AI that detects financial crime

Financial crime as a wider category of cybercrime continues to be one of the most potent of online threats, covering nefarious actives as diverse as fraud, money laundering and funding terrorism. Today, one of the startups that has been building data intelligence solutions to help combat that is announcing a fundraise to continue fueling its growth.

Ripjar, a UK company founded by five data scientists who previously worked together in British intelligence at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the NSA), has raised $36.8 million (£28 million) in a Series B, money that it plans to use to continue expanding the scope of its AI platform — which it calls Labyrinth — and scaling the business.

Labyrinth, as Ripjar describes it, works with both structured and unstructured data, using natural language processing and an API-based platform that lets organizations incorporate any data source they would like to analyse and monitor for activity. It automatically and in real time checks these against other data sources like sanctions lists, politically exposed persons (PEPs) lists and transaction alerts.

Sources close to the company say that the funding values the startup in the region of £100 million, or about $127 million. Ripjar is currently profitable, the company confirmed.

The funding is being led by Long Ridge Equity Partners, a specialist fintech investor, with previous investors Winton Capital Ltd and Accenture plc also participating. Accenture is a strategic partner: the consultancy/systems integrator uses Ripjar’s tech to work with a number of clients in the financial services sector. Ripjar also has government clients, where its platform is used for counterterrorism work. It declines to disclose any specific names but it does note that its extensive partner list also includes the likes of PWC, BAE Systems, Dow Jones and more.

“We are excited to partner with Long Ridge who bring expertise and resources in scaling fast-growing software companies,” said Jeremy Annis, who is both the CEO and CTO of Ripjar and co-founded the company with Tom Griffin, Leigh Jones, Robert Biggs and Jeremy Laycock. “This investment signals enormous confidence in our world-leading data intelligence technology and ability to protect companies and governments from criminal behaviour which threatens their assets and prosperity. With this funding, we will accelerate the expansion of Ripjar worldwide to provide our customers with the most advanced financial crime solutions, as well as creating new iterations of the Labyrinth platform.”

The startup says that it’s had its biggest year yet — no surprise, given the circumstances. Not only has there been huge shift to online transactions in 2020 because of the rise of the Covid-19 global health pandemic; but a tightening of the world economy has led to more financial scrambling and new nefarious activity, as well as criminal acts to profit from the instability.

That’s led to inking deals with six new enterprise customers and expanding deals with four existing major clients, and Ripjar said that it now has some 20,000 clients globally.

And if you are curious about the name as I was, it’s if anything a meta reference to some of the kind of work that Ripjar does.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” a spokesperson said. “It was created using technology to ensure a name was selected that had never been used before.”

London, as one of the world’s financial centers, has developed a strong reputation for hatching and growing interesting fintech startups, and that has also meant the UK — which also has a strong talent base in artificial intelligence — has become very fertile ground also for startups building services to help protect those fintechs.

Ripjar’s raise, and rise, come within months of two other companies building AI to combat fraud and financial crime also raising money and growing. In July, ComplyAdvantage, which has also been building a database and platform to help combat financial crime, announced a $50 million raise. And a week before that, another UK company also building AI for financial and other cybercrime detection, Quantexa, raised $64.7 million.

Ripjar counts both of these, as well as bigger targets like Palantir, among its competitors. As is most likely, the big institutions that are grappling with financial crime are most likely using a several companies’ technology at the same time.

It claims to have the more sophisticated approach. “We believe that Labyrinth is the most advanced solution in the market as we’ve developed it after decades of first hand experience of fighting crime and terrorism within the national security community,” said David Balson, Director of Intelligence at Ripjar, in answer to my question about competitors. “There is no silver bullet in the fight against crime. As such, we’ve had to come up with hundreds of innovations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the vital work that goes on in the financial sector and law enforcement. This includes our world leading natural language processing (NLP) and identity resolution capabilities, which work over any global language and script, joining the dots automatically between structured data and unstructured text like documents, news reports, web pages and intelligence reports. It’s a vital tool to help analysts overcome the information overload that is so often associated with the sector.”

Indeed, the silver bullet reference applies to more than just Ripjar’s technology. With the issue of money laundering alone a $2 trillion problem (with only 1-2% of that ever identified and recovered), you can see why, at least for right now, banks, governments and others might be willing to put multiple resources on the problem to try to tackle it.

“Financial institutions, corporates and government agencies face ever-increasing risks associated with financial crime and cyber threats” said Kevin Bhatt, a Managing Partner at Long Ridge, in a statement. “We believe Ripjar is well-positioned to provide artificial intelligence solutions that will allow its clients to reduce the cost of compliance, while uncovering new threats through automation. We are incredibly excited to partner with Ripjar to support their continued growth and look forward to working closely with the Ripjar team as they expand to new geographies, customers, and verticals.”

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