By recruiting financial advisers and expanding organically this year, Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, a Coral Gables, Fla., unit of Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc., plans to recover the assets it lost last year as a result of difficult market conditions, according to the new managing director of its wealth arm.

Last year Gibraltar's assets under management declined 18.2%, to $900 million. Matthew A. Lapides, who was hired last month, said in an interview last week that he wants to increase wallet share with its customers by offering a more holistic array of services.

"Gibraltar plans to really embrace a goal-based approach to its clients," Lapides said. "A lot of people used to call this financial planning. We think by using this kind of process, we can get closer to our clients and draw more assets over time."

He also said his unit wants to recruit advisers in southern Florida and elsewhere along the East Coast, though he would not say how many advisers it wants to add or where they would be based.

When Gibraltar opened a New York office in October 2007, Boston Private said it would consider using the unit's charter to open private banks in other markets it is considering entering.

Lapides would not say whether Boston Private would open private banks in other markets. He succeeded Frederick H. Sandstrom, who will remain with Gibraltar as a senior adviser.

Having a local operation is not as important as it once was for private banks, Lapides said. Before joining Gibraltar he was a resident director and wealth management adviser for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. in Miami, and he said that he was licensed in 35 states.

"I think today people are constantly moving, relocating and changing where they are, so geography doesn't matter that much anymore," Lapides said. "It doesn't matter if you are in Maine or Washington or Florida. Customers want to work with a company because it offers them a holistic financial advisory experience, not because they happen to have an office across the street."

But analysts said having a local office remains critical, especially for older investors.

"Wealthy individuals like to know that their wealth adviser lives and works in their community," said Burton Greenwald, an analyst with BJ Greenwald Associates in Philadelphia. "There is a certain comfort in a familiar face."

Lapides, who is overseeing investment implementation, client relationships and business development for Gibraltar, said it finds new customers by working with certified public accountants and lawyers. He said that the unit is focused on developing strong client relationships, rather than maximizing product sales.

By strengthening client relationships, Gibraltar can get its assets under management back above $1 billion, Lapides said.

"We are going to set specific goals for this year for our business units in trust, investment management and wealth management, but we aren't prepared to give those goals yet," he said. "I have found that people get a lot more accomplished when there are written goals in place."

It would be a "challenge" for Gibraltar to get back above $1 billion this year, Lapides said. "From a pragmatic standpoint, it is just going to be difficult. I'd like to raise a couple hundred million dollars this year, but it is hard to say what the markets are going to do."

Right now "there is a lot of money in motion, but it is really difficult to commit to a goal this year," he said. "We are confident that we have the right process in place for developing new relationships, and we are working to get the right advisers so we are able to grow effectively, rather than by the seat of our pants."

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