Need to Meet: Jim Cass, SVP and managing director, SEI

  • Heads bizdev, client services for alternative managers
  • Firm offers outsourced middle-, back-office functions
  • Dashboard gives LPs detailed look at returns, expenses

The biggest problem SEI tries to solve for its alternatives clients is complexity, says Jim Cass, senior vice president and managing director of the company’s investment manager services division.

Cass joined the Oaks, Pennsylvania, provider of wealth-management and business process services as a portfolio analyst in 1990. Today, several roles later, he oversees business development and client servicing for PE firms, hedge funds and funds-of-funds.

“We offer full back- and middle-office solutions to investment managers,” Cass said, with his division working with around 130 clients globally.

In private equity, “the complexity of the funds [is] becoming [like] Charlotte’s Web,” Cass said. A handful of people with an Excel spreadsheet once sufficed for administrative tasks. “Now, because of tax and jurisdictional reasons, [managers] realize they can’t do it on the back of a napkin anymore. You need to go to a provider that actually has a system, that can turn things around more quickly for your investors, and allow a certain amount of transparency reporting back to those investors.”

With roots in mutual-fund accounting, SEI took on its first hedge-fund client in 1996 and moved into PE work five years later. “We’ve actually seen a tremendous amount more growth in private equity than hedge,” Cass said.

Because of heightened competition for the same pool of institutional investors, “managers have had to be more creative and offer things like hurdles and clawbacks. It’s not like hedge funds, where there’s always a straight two-and-20.”

SEI offers help for firms working to attract commitments, including “investor dashboard tools that allow LPs to come in and mine through the data a little more,” to understand where returns come from and what expenses are used for. The company also has a handful of LP clients that it services directly.

With respect to GPs, many “of the larger firms are the ones calling us more frequently,” Cass said. With operational expenses “starting to get a little out of hand, economies of scale that we can provide are helpful to them.”

And increasingly, their investors want to see third-party independence in valuations. SEI also works with small startup firms, “people wearing multiple hats, not being able to pass operational due diligence” on their own.

Streamlining and automating non-investment functions enables managers to add new funds without increasing incremental headcount, Cass said. SEI’s clients “pay us a fraction of what they would have to invest internally.” For firms in places like New York and Connecticut, with high costs of living, keeping hiring down can boost the bottom line.

Phone: +1 610-676-1270


Jim Cass, senior vice president and managing director, SEI. Photo courtesy of the firm.