WAYNE, Pa. -- SEI Corp. has undertaken a major effort to modify the core computer system that supports its trust service bureau business.

The goal is for the Wayne-based company to use an "open systems" approach to computer processing to make it easier to send information from SEI's computers to banks' computers, company officials said.

"We want to fundamentally change the [computer] system in the next few years to maintain our leadership position in the trust system business," said Richard Lieb, an SEI executive vice president.

SEI is the largest provider of computer services to bank trust departments. Its clients include 40 of the 100 largest trust banks in the country, including Comerica Inc., Detroit, CoreStates Financial Corp., Philadelphia, First Interstate Bancorp, Los Angeles, and Fleet Financial Group Inc., Providence, R.I.

Biggest Business

The trust service bureau business is SEI's biggest, and its longest standing source of revenue. In 1992, the company got $93 million of revenue from its trust service bureau business, nearly half of its total revenue of $208 million.

SEI's other business includes the management of mutual funds that banks offer to their customers, and consulting, record-keeping, and performance measurement services for money managers.

SEI first told its customers of plans to modify its trust computer systems at a customer meeting in June, Mr. Lieb said.

Today, SEI uses a traditional mainframe computer system to provide trust accounting services to banks in which people in bank trust departments record and retrieve information from "dumb" terminals in their offices that are connected over telephone lines to SEI's mainframe computers in Wayne.

Ann Luther, the SEI official in charge of the trust service bureau computer system, said that SEI's computer system is "highly integrated" and "fundamentally closed."

This means that it is difficult for a bank to take information from SEI's trust computer systems and plug it into their own computer system.

SEI wants to change this by using open systems technology to enable banks to link their own software applications, or those built by other vendors, with SEI's computer system.

SEI also wants to employ more "distributed" computing systems, in which personal computers handle data processing chores in tandem with mainframes.

Seen as Wise Move

SEI officials declined to say how much it will cost to make these changes, or how long the modifications will take to complete, or to describe the changes in further detail.

But Thomas Abraham, a consultant in New York specializing in trust and securities processing, estimated that the modifications will cost "tens of millions of dollars," and that at least some of the changes should be completed late next year and early in 1995.

He added that he thought SEI was wise to make the modifications. "Conceptually, it sounds like the right thing to do," he said.

Hiring Help

He said that the modifications should make it easier for banks to do such things as transfer information about trust customers from SEI computers to bank computers that track customer profitability and help in cross-selling.

To make sure the modification work proceeds smoothly, SEI is planning to hire a consulting company to help maintain its computer system, and to do custom programming work.

Approximately 50 of SEI's employees will be offered jobs with the consulting company, SEI announced.

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