New technology pinpoints anomalies in complex financial data

Oct 26, 2011 by Frances White
Analysis of fund data done with the Anomalator software illustrates how disgraced financier Bernard Madoff’s returns (solid red line) were an anomaly, as they were atypically stable while other funds repeatedly spiked up and down. Anomalator’s inventors say their sophisticated anomaly-detection and visualization tool could have exposed Madoff and can help expose future scandals.

Identifying atypical information in financial data early could help identify problematic financial trends such as the systemic risk that recently put the U.S. and global financial systems in a downward fall. Recognizing such anomalous information can also help regulators, investors and advisors better manage their investment and savings portfolios.

Now, new analytical software developed by Battelle researchers based in Richland at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory can do just that. The technology has been licensed by Battelle to financial services company V-INDICATOR ANALYTICS, LLC, of Spokane, Wash.

In a demonstration of this technology, the Battelle-developed Anomalator software recently picked out the atypically stable and positive returns reported by disgraced financier as an anomaly among hundreds of funds. He is now serving a 150-year for scamming investors out of as much as $65 billion in a that spanned at least 20 years. Unfortunately, Madoff's fraud was concealed for more than 15 years. The use of this sophisticated anomaly-detection and visualization tool could have exposed Madoff early on, and can help expose future scandals, its inventors say.

"The Great Recession of the late 2000s has shown how questionable financial practices can place America's economy at serious risk," said John McEntire, the Battelle commercialization manager who licensed the technology to V-INDICATOR. "The Anomalator provides the unbiased, fact-based analysis needed to identify those problematic practices and help protect the nation's economy."

Traditional financial analysis reports either provide a list of numbers or a simple line graph to represent the value of just one investment over time. The Anomalator is unique in its ability to identify unusual trends in complex financial data and graphically show how it compares with larger datasets.

Anomalator uses to identify the atypical data in databases that record the movement of funds or the people who manage them over time. The software then creates a line graph representing the progress of anomalous funds or managers, as well as other user-selected funds or managers of interest.

Visual data analysis for the financial field

V-INDICATOR President Burton "Bud" Sheppard learned that Battelle and PNNL had a long history of visually analyzing data for homeland security applications. Researchers and commercialization managers from Battelle agreed to help him develop new visual analytics software. Battelle put up its own, private technology maturation funds to finance the development and then granted a license to V-INDICATOR to market the software for use in the financial services industry.

Homing in on the tool's potential to detect financial fraud, V-INDICATOR compiled Madoff's stated returns from one of the leading Madoff feeder funds. Battelle and V-INDICATOR researchers ran several scenarios and found that while the majority of the market was volatile, repeatedly spiking up or down, Madoff's returns were atypically upward sloping and effectively never lost money. This technology's unique anomaly-detection and visualization helps expose glaringly anomalous patterns such as those produced by Madoff.

"There's virtually nobody who duplicates Madoff's straight line and that could or should have been a dead giveaway to anybody who was looking at the data," said Sheppard. "Unfortunately, this anomaly wasn't caught until billions of dollars had already been lost. But financial firms and overseers can detect such crimes now with the help of the Anomalator."

V-INDICATOR is currently working with financial industry leaders to apply Anomalator software to critical problems addressed by the Dodd-Frank legislation and its regulations. Applications span systemic risk to funds, derivatives, stocks, bonds and other financial instruments — and uses including regulatory, wealth management, fiduciary, forensic, advisory and asset management and monitoring.

Explore further: Launching a new brand: Is partnering with a popular brand a good idea?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Probing Question: How do Ponzi Schemes work?

Jul 02, 2009

Imagine the shock, the horror, and the sheer panic that would come with learning that the financial plan you’d sunk your life savings into was a sham, the financial experts you trusted were crooks, and all your money was ...

Ponzi scheme theme in 'Made Off' videogame

May 06, 2009

Is there a bit of Bernie in you? Mobile phone users worldwide will soon be able to play Ponzi scheme scammers in a new videogame based on the financial ruin wreaked by jailed US fraudster Bernard Madoff.

This week's Web Winners: Investment help

Jan 13, 2009

Sophisticated investors were among victims of Bernard L. Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Avoiding financial scams must be even trickier than we thought. These sites might make it easier.

Recommended for you

Professor analyzes role of trade sanctions against Iran

Mar 04, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress on Tuesday as about 50 Democratic lawmakers threatened to boycott the address, offering the latest and one of the most clear microcosms of the debate about Iran's ...

Think twice about investing in own company

Mar 04, 2015

Employees whose retirement plan is invested in stock of the company where they work do not pull out money as the firms approach financial distress, a recently released, but yet to be published paper, co-authored ...

When performance comparisons spur risky behavior

Mar 02, 2015

When you're at work, there are two types of people you compete with: People with similar responsibilities at your own company, and rivals with similar duties at other companies. How do those different flavors ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 26, 2011
If I were a marketer, I would classify this "Anomalator" product as "unsought." The true test of this product's value will be whether or not it can actually predict fraudulent activity. One should keep in mind that Madoff's fund already had a reputation (for years in fact) of being exceptionally profitable, and yet no one cried "foul" or even thought to perform an audit until the fund collapsed. I wonder what the Anomalator would suggest about well-known (and legally minded) successful investors, i.e. George Soros or Victor Niederhoffer. It may be useful to the SEC for investigating fraud, but it may also incorrectly point to legitimate successful managers.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.