By   –  Staff Writer, Kansas City Business Journal

With a focus on scaling, Azella Advisor hired its first executive vice president of business strategy.

Cary Lieberman, who will take on the role at the branding and marketing technology startup, has worked at companies such as The Mutual Fund Store, where he held senior leadership roles. He brings 34 years of experience in the financial services industry, including managing an advisory unit with $4 billion in assets under management and as the founder of a financial advisory firm.

Grain Valley-based Azella has a unique focus – serving hybrid, independent and breakaway financial advisers, those who have left the big firms for a smaller and more nimble company. Azella focuses on understanding its advisers’ needs, concerns, goals and target audience to create effective marketing and generate quality leads, Azella founder and CEO David Roberson told the Kansas City Business Journal.

“He has the skill set, the mindset and the expertise to help us truly scale,” Roberson said.

The two previously met while working at The Mutual Fund Store, now called Edelman Financial Engines, and became friends. While Roberson brings the marketing tech expertise, Lieberman brings the financial adviser perspective.

“One thing I’ve learned is that advisers are great conversationalists and centers of influence with their clients in making good decisions, but what they are not good at is marketing for the most part,” Lieberman said.

To build their client base, advisers typically target friends and family first, but after that they need to know how to engage in “serious marketing initiatives,” and that’s a profession in and of itself, Lieberman said. Financial advisers typically lose 7% to 10% of their clients every year, and it can be tough to continue building up the client base, Lieberman said.

“Advisers are not experienced in sophisticated marketing strategies, and more importantly, they don’t have the time to do it. Time is the enemy of every financial adviser,” he said.

Azella provides customer relationship management marketing automation capabilities and can help advisers with managing aspects such as Google ads, email marketing and search engine optimization. It also can design logos and websites tailored to individual advisers.

Lieberman, who retired more than two years ago at age 58, later decided he was too young to retire and hopped back into the industry. Roberson’s ability to find investors early on and prove his business model stood out. To Lieberman, it signified that Roberson likes to win and is adept at managing and measuring his business.

“I don’t see that in many startup CEOs. They usually either lack people skills, critical thinking skills or assessment skills. David pretty much rounds out the house on that,” he said.

Azella has five employees and its client base has $40 billion in AUM. It recently secured funding from the Fountain Innovation Fund and investors such as Vercie Lark, who previously was an executive vice president and head of DST Financial Services at DST Systems Inc.

The pandemic only accelerated the startup’s growth as advisers sought help to engage with clients without relying on in-person meetings. They needed a technology-driven platform to manage the process, and Lieberman doesn’t expect that demand to diminish even when Covid-19 is less of an issue. It gives them another tool to connect with clients, he said. Azella also can work with tight deadlines, Roberson said. One group of advisers that set out to create their firm, Puzzle Wealth Solutions, set a one-month deadline for creating branding, a website and marketing materials.

“They were working with one of the largest firms in our space, and no one could help them get to their timeline,” Roberson said.

Puzzle Wealth Solutions now is among Azella’s largest clients.