With $551 million in assets, Sturdy Savings Bank ranks squarely among the nation’s community institutions. It’s definitely smaller than most banks that offer financial advisory services, but that hasn’t stopped it from diving head first into the advisory business and building a program from scratch.

Since it launched its program in January 2007, the Cape May, N.J.-based bank has accumulated $96 million in assets under management, an increase of 35% from a year ago. And it’s on track to hit $100 million in the next couple of months, says David Repici, the manager of program and the business development officer for the bank.

The 36-year veteran of the financial services industry comfortably straddles the banking and brokerage world, having served as both a banker and financial advisor in the course of his long career. His experience has helped him and his team shape an investment program that Repici says combines the best that banks and wirehouses have to offer.

How has the bank been able to grow its financial services program so rapidly? Repici attributes the program’s success to a number of factors, from the commitment of the bank’s senior management to hiring the right people as advisors and the right third-party marketing firm, which in this case is Cetera Financial Institutions.

“We’re not just another department or division in the bank. We’re well integrated into the culture here,” he says.

Below are excerpts of his recent interview with Bank Investment Consultant. A full-length profile of the program will run in the March issue of the publication.

What was the reason for starting the program?

Our bank has been here for 90 years. It’s well regarded and has a great reputation. We were seeing an opportunity to better serve our clients. We felt that we were very good at offering traditional banking products with our loan and deposit products, but one of the missing ingredients was the investment side of the bank. We wanted to make sure that were offering a full range of products and services to help clients grow.

Tell us about your most significant accomplishment?

We’ve been on a really nice growth trend. We started this from the ground up. We did not grow our book of business at the rate we’ve been growing it by acquiring financial advisors who had a book of business and then transferred that in. We literally started with zero. So all of our growth has been organic. We’ve been growing nicely since [the program’s] inception. We’ve continued to grow in spite of some of the downturns in the market. We continue to … post increases in revenue in strong double-digit numbers.

How were you able to achieve this level of growth?

I was on the banking side a long time ago and I would see programs in banks. I was in the unique position to see what worked and what didn’t work. Then I went and worked in a wirehouse and then I came and worked back in a bank again. Hopefully what we were able to do was take the best of the wirehouse and take the best of the bank side.  We feel we don’t act like a traditional bank program. We’re kind of a blend. We’re a relatively small bank in the whole scheme of things but we have more of a boutique program with a strong focus on wealth management for our clients.

Why do you think the program works?

Right from the beginning I was involved in working with the directors. That’s one advantage of working in a bank our size. You get to work with the president and all the senior officers and directors of the bank very closely. [For] any bank our size, I strongly encourage that you communicate to the directors and senior managers right from the beginning the expectations of a program like this and the cyclical nature of our business.

What are your goals for the business going forward?

I would like Sturdy Financial Services to be viewed as the premier wealth management group within the county we serve [Cape May County]. Our bank is the number one market leader in the county from a deposit point of view. The next big step is for our financial services group to have that distinction.