As companies like Uber make paying for goods and services more seamless than ever, startup Level wants to make managing finances more effortless, too. On Thursday, the San Francisco-based company said it had launched a new iOS app for helping millennials track their spending and had raised a $5 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The funding round, which also included former Citigroup Chairman and CEO Sandy Weill, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and former Barclays Global Investors CEO Blake Grossman, is intended to help the nine-person company grow its team, improve customer service, bring its app to Android and explore ways to expand its business.
The idea behind Level, said co-founder and CEO Jake Fuentes, is to target younger consumers who are increasingly accustomed to making payments digitally (and, in the case of Uber, swipe-free) and may have a tougher time keeping track of their spending trail.
Once downloaded and integrated with a user’s financial accounts, Level’s free app gives users a quick way to view their spending and saving. It displays their income and recurring bills, then recommends an amount to save each month and provides a constantly-updated “money meter” showing how much they can spend on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Services like Mint and Learnvest already give people robust mobile and web tools to manage their finances. But Fuentes emphasized that, unlike those services, his startup doesn’t rely on the traditional notion of budgeting or break spending into categories like “food” and “entertainment.” In an effort to appeal to younger users, who may only track their finances “on the back of an envelope,” he said, Level’s goal is to provide a mobile-first, pared-down approach to financial management.
“The concept of budgeting that we have is fundamentally broken,” he said. “In a world where money is no longer tactile, we want to recreate the experience of opening up your wallet and seeing how much money you have left.”
Given rising student loan debt, healthcare costs and underemployment, as well as the mostly digital way people spend money these days, I think it’s great that Level wants to find an effective way to help the 18-to-35 crowd manage money. But in trying to keep its interface clean and clutter-free, I wonder if Level has stripped away too much functionality. Some of the older users in its target demographic may be saving for new homes or major life events like having children and the app does basically nothing to help people plan for those kind of changes (or even vacations, for that matter).
For now, the startup seems focused on attracting users with a simple, easy-to-use free app. Down the road, Fuentes said, they’ll think of ways to support users making longer-term financial decisions. And, he suggested, Level could charge for those kinds of additional features.