UPDATE 1-Julius Baer pushing ahead with hires, M&A under new CEO

(Adds CEO, analyst comment, detail)

ZURICH, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Swiss private bank Julius Baer will push ahead under new Chief Executive Bernhard Hodler with hiring more client managers and looking for both large and small acquisitions, it said on Wednesday.

Baer, Switzerland's third-largest listed bank, posted a double-digit percentage rise in 2017 net profit during the first major corporate event since its former chief risk officer took the helm.

Hodler, who took over from long-time boss Boris Collardi following the former chief's departure for independent wealth manager Pictet in November, told reporters on a conference call he would be driving forward the bank's strategy for growth.

"It's a great strategy we will sharpen in a year to come and will have three strategic priorities," Hodler said, citing increasing business with existing clients and doubling down on existing markets as part of its focus. "And thirdly, drive our proven growth strategy of organic development and targeted M&A."

A hiring spree in recent years helped the bank gain new clients and bring in fresh money, an indicator of future earnings in private banking.

Over a hundred net hires in 2016 and 41 in 2017 helped Baer bring in 22 billion Swiss francs ($23.6 billion) in net new money in 2017, a growth rate of 6.6 percent, overshooting its 4-6 percent medium-term target range.

However, internal transfers meant the bank only increased its total number of relationship managers by 13 in 2017, which Baader Helvea analyst Tomasz Grzelak said could make it difficult maintain the strong asset growth this year.

"We believe it will be difficult for the bank to sustain the strong net new asset growth, which is likely to abate towards 5 percent," Grzelak said in a note.

The bank said it would aim to hire a net 80 relationship managers in 2018 over prior-year levels.

It added it would propose a dividend of 1.40 francs per share, compared with 1.20 francs last year.

Adjusted net profit of 806 million Swiss francs fell just short of analysts' average estimate for 810 million francs in a Reuters poll.

Net profit under IFRS accounting standards was 705 million francs, up 14 percent on 2016.

The group also announced a deal to acquire a 95 percent stake in Reliance Group, a Brazilian wealth manager with about 5 billion francs in client assets, for an undisclosed sum.

($1 = 0.9322 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Mark Potter)