Financial risk forecasting (FRF) is an effective tool to help people forecast whether or not a company will fail in future. Among all techniques of FRF, the support vector machine (SVM) is the most newly developed, and one of the most accurate and effective techniques. This study is devoted to investigating an ensemble model of FRF by integrating bagging with an SVM to generate a data-driven SVM ensemble. Bagging is used to produce diverse training datasets on which multiple SVM classifiers are trained to make FRF for a target company. Simple voting is employed to produce a final decision from the SVM model committee. The empirical study has two objectives. One is to verify whether the data-driven SVM ensemble can produce a more dominating performance than the most frequently used techniques in the area of FRF, i.e. multivariate discriminant analysis, logistics regression and a single SVM. The other is to verify whether feature selection is necessary to help the SVM make more precise FRF, although the SVM can handle high-dimensional data. The results indicate that the data-driven SVM ensemble significantly improves the predictive ability of SVM-based FRF. Meanwhile, feature selection can effectively help the SVM achieve better predictive performance, which means that use of feature selection is necessary in SVM-based FRF. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.