Salesforce backs a start-up that uses selfies and A.I. to verify your identity online

Key Points
  • Onfido's latest round of funding was led by Salesforce's venture capital arm and Japanese financial group SBI.
  • The start-up will use the money to invest in its technology and strengthen its presence in the U.S.
  • Former Salesforce Vice Chairman Frank van Veenendaal will join the start-up's board following the deal.
Onfido's software in action.

Identity verification start-up Onfido says it's raised $50 million from investors including Salesforce and Microsoft.

The firm's software validates a person's identity by taking their selfie and applying a mix of machine learning and human fraud experts to match their face with a government-issued ID.

Its latest round of funding, announced Wednesday, was led by Salesforce's venture capital arm and Japanese financial group SBI, with additional backing from Microsoft's venture unit and others.

Husayn Kassai, co-founder and CEO of Onfido, told CNBC that the company would use the fresh capital to "continue to invest in the technology and in the AI (artificial intelligence) component."

Onfido's AI is used to analyze people's faces to make sure they are who they say they are and reduce fraud. Its customers include crowdfunding site Indiegogo and remittances app Remitly.

Though headquartered in London, Kassai said Onfido actually gets most of its business now from the U.S., and is looking to strengthen its presence there.

Founded in 2012 by three Oxford University graduates, the company has been in expansion mode, increasing activity across the U.S., Europe and Southeast Asia.

The latest investment brings Onfido's total funding to more than $100 million. Frank van Veenendaal, former vice chairman of Salesforce, will join the start-up's board following the deal.

Kassai, who is originally from Iran, says he came up with the idea for the business based on his own personal frustrations with how long it took for his parents to apply for bank accounts and other services when they moved to the U.K.

"It basically took them months to be able to open a bank account and rent in their own name — and it's all because they weren't registered on the credit bureau," he said.

He says he felt credit agencies "exclude half the world's population" because so many people lack traditional access to financial services. According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion adults globally don't have access to banking.

Going forward, Onfido's boss said he sees people being able to use their selfies to check themselves into a hotel, order prescription drugs for home delivery and even voting.

Some of its competitors include U.S.-based Jumio and Canadian firm Trulioo. Onfido says it's different because it openly invites companies to trial its product and it's "good at doing machine learning properly."

According to industry consultancy group Smithers Pira, the global market for personal ID credentials was worth $9.5 billion last year and is set to grow to nearly $10.7 billion in 2023.