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Capital One buys Level Money, an excellent spending tracker

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Can it survive being acquired?

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Level, an elegant but slow-growing app for tracking your spending, has been acquired by Capital One, the companies said today. The app, which was a favorite of ours when it launched in 2013, monitors your purchases and tells you how much you can spend each day without overdrawing your account. Capital One, which started as a credit-card company but has growing ambitions as a bank, says Level will help it build products geared toward a younger generation. (The deal price was not disclosed.)

I’m a big fan of Level — I use it to track how much I spend on ride-sharing services every month, among other things. And it fills a niche: most official bank apps are ugly, hard to use, and siloed — they don’t give you a sense of your overall financial health. That’s why my visceral reaction to learning Level had been acquired was despair. Mint, the best-designed personal finance app of a previous generation, languished after being purchased by Intuit. Mint was fairly well established when it was bought; Level, by contrast, felt like it was only getting started. But Level, which had raised $5 million from Kleiner Perkins and others, likely wasn’t growing fast enough to remain independent: it had only 700,000 downloads to date, and no revenues.

Level likely wasn't growing fast enough to stay independent

The good news is that, for now, Level will continue to be actively developed, and you can still sign in accounts with all the banks it currently supports. Capital One acquired the whole 11-person team and will allow them to remain working in San Francisco, where Capital One has an office with 100 people and plans to expand. "The Level product will only get better," says Jake Fuentes, Level’s co-founder and CEO. "We have a mandate from Capital One to build this into the next-generation banking experience we know it can be. We have access to resources at Capital One at a scale that we can really only dream of as a small company."

"The Level product will only get better."

Level’s product roadmap includes letting users move money around inside the app, and creating new features to encourage saving, Fuentes says. But then, every startup is optimistic about the future on the day they’re acquired. Angie Moody, Capital One’s vice president for product development, says the company is making a big push into digital services. It bought the online bank ING Direct in 2012; more recently, it acquired the digital design and user experience firm Adaptive Path. The acquisitions "have really positioned us to be more of a tech company than a traditional bank company," she says.

I hope that’s true, because a traditional bank company would stifle any tech company it bought under crushing layers of bureaucracy, sending the founders scrambling for the exits as soon as their stock vests. Level is useful, well-designed, and has some good ideas for helping people manage their money. Here’s to hoping it’s the rare startup that thrives after being acquired.

Level is available on Android and iOS.