* Total managed funds up 26.5 pct from year earlier
* Operating profit up 40 pct to 397 million pounds
* Shares up 1.6 pct (Adds details, quote, share reaction)
LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - Demand for advice from wealthy clients worried about low interest rates and pension changes drove the funds managed by Britain's St James's Place to a record high in the first half.
St James's Place, which provides face-to-face financial planning for wealthier clients, said on Thursday that total managed funds rose by 26.5 percent from the same period a year earlier with net inflows of 4.3 billion pounds ($5.65 billion) helping take total assets to 83 billion pounds.
The London-based wealth manager said it had continued to benefit from increased demand for advice on how to manage assets against a market backdrop of persistently low interest rates, and after changes to rules around pensions in Britain.
"The implications of sustained low interest rates, longer life expectancy, enhanced pension freedoms and greater emphasis on individual financial responsibility, all highlight the continued need for and importance of sound, personal and trusted advice," outgoing Chief Executive David Bellamy said.
Shares in St James's were up 1.6 percent at 0717 GMT, outperforming in a slightly weaker blue-chip FTSE 100.
The growth was also fuelled by a 3.7 percent increase in the number of financial advisers to 3,540 and strong client retention, the company said.
That helped operating profit rise nearly 40 percent to 397.3 million pounds, it said in a statement, underpinning a 30 percent rise in its underlying cash result and an interim dividend of 15.41 pence a share.
Alliance Bernstein analyst Edward Houghton said the net inflows were 11 percent ahead of consensus and the dividend was a 5 percent beat, although total funds were in-line.
"Putting it all together, we'd say in-line profitability and ending funds under management combined with better-than-expected net flows probably puts modest upward pressure on estimates," he wrote in a note to clients, flagging an 'outperform' rating. ($1 = 0.7614 pounds) (Reporting by Simon Jessop; editing by Alexander Smith)