Bill Farren is an economist who started his career with the Peace Corps in 1963, stationed in a small village in Southern Honduras called El Corpus. He went on to work in international development for nonprofits such as CARE Inc. in Honduras, Colombia, Peru and the Dominican Republic. A wonderful experience and a noble career.

He spent 20 years working in Central and South America, where his four children were born. In 1980, however, when his daughter was ready to start high school, he and his wife, Loretta, decided to move from Bogota, Colombia, to Monroe, Conn., where his kids would go to school. But what to do with his career?

At first, he continued in the nonprofit world: He worked at TechnoServe, an organization offering business and market solutions to poverty in developing countries. But then he got the itch to start his own business. He got together with Norbert Janis, a Deloitte CPA from New Canaan, whom he’d met in Bogota, and the two started cooking on a business idea.

The two realized as they conferred that they’d always had a similar problem: Both traveled almost continually and felt overwhelmed by the huge stack of bills they faced when they returned home. They realized that other people might have similar problems, and wondered if they could offer a service—an automated service that would do bookkeeping and pay bills automatically for busy families and executives.

It was the mid-1980s, and computers were becoming important for such a venture. So what they came up with first was software “somewhat like Quicken,” he says. They set up shop under the name “My Accountant” in Janis’ New Canaan basement in 1986.

“We started with zero clients,” Farren says. Nor did the two have marketing experience. So they started searching reverse city directories and driving around swell neighborhoods in New Canaan, writing down addresses and sending letters offering a free month of bookkeeping services in exchange for referrals. They also sought recommendations from bankers and financial advisors.

It was slow going, but they eventually built the business up, and today My Accountant has 200 clients in 20 U.S. states and in overseas cities such as Hong Kong, London and Beijing. Several have been with My Accountant for over 20 years.

At first, the company also did taxes. But as My Accountant grew, it shed that business to concentrate on bookkeeping and handling the sorts of bills, like charity donations and tax payments, that the clients had no time to do themselves. These were clients with two, three or four homes, people traveling a lot, spread out all over the world (in some cases, having been transferred overseas by U.S. companies).

What the company offers is not only a bookkeeping service, however, but a sort of back office. When a client signs on to My Accountant, the company changes the address on his or her bills so the mail comes to the company’s office in Trumbull, Conn. That’s a lot of post. (The firm receives 200 pounds of mail each day, Farren says.) One of the employees picks up the mail from the post office. It is sorted and stored in individual client mailboxes. Once a week, the bookkeeper in charge pulls that client’s mail and all the bills are scanned.

“For most clients, we have a bank account,” Farren says. “Each client has a banker or lawyer who moves money into the account every month, $10,000 or more. We send all the original bills back to the client. We tell them, ‘If it has a number on it, send it to us.’”

Some clients have all their mail sent to Farren’s firm and the bookkeepers sort it and send personal mail to the client’s home.

As part of its service, My Accountant not only pays bills but keeps track of tax information such as clients’ mortgage interest, charitable deductions, etc. If the client leases a car or gets a new business or a request for donations from the Salvation Army, for example, he or she sends the information to My Accountant and lets the company know how much to pay.

Throughout the year, Farren also keeps accountants current on their clients’ tax information, such as property taxes paid, charitable donations, etc., so the accountants can then adjust the quarterly estimated tax payments. “We’ve always wanted to stick to our knitting, and we work well with other client services,” Farren says.

Besides paying bills, My Accountant does a cash flow report for clients and accountants each quarter. “We track each property and all expenses related to that property,” he says. “Tax accountants love us.” Farren also does payroll taxes for a client’s household staff, including drivers and nannies. “We take out and file withholding and do direct deposit for nannies,” he says. The company files W-2 forms for the nannies and reports the income to the state. A client might meanwhile ask to have a real estate bill paid in four segments. Or may request a direct deposit of $500 on the first of every month for, say, a daughter at Brown University.

If there is interest or a penalty due as a result of a mistake by My Accountant, the firm will take care of that penalty. “We guarantee that if a payment is missed, we will pay the balance,” Farren says.

Of course, sometimes clients call needing help with problems Farren can’t handle—he’s been asked, for instance, for help buying a generator by clients whose power is out.

Still, he says, “we do keep a list of the services our clients like.” One of these is National Medical Claims Service, a 25-year-old firm in Darien, Conn., that handles only medical claims, dealing with medical providers, hospitals and insurance companies to make certain clients receive all the money they are due. Farren says his staff outsourced this service after first trying to handle it themselves. “We tried to do it,” Farren says, “but our employees said they would quit if they had another claim to do.”

My Accountant also works with Citicorp to pay bills out of escrow and works with an attorney in New York to help non-citizens buy real estate.

Some clients call every day; others never call. He even has several he’s never met.

Since Farren is in the professional business of check writing, he also takes more than an academic interest in making sure checks are good and never forged. To that end, he turned to a well-known forger: Frank William Abagnale Jr., the famous imposter immortalized by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale, who posed as a doctor, lawyer, professor and airline pilot for five years in the 1960s, also passed bad checks worth about $2.5 million in 26 countries. He got out of jail by agreeing to show the U.S. government how he did it, and he later set up Abagnale & Associates to help corporations prevent fraud.

After Farren heard Abagnale speak at a presentation, he became interested in the subject of check forging. Abagnale “talked about check washing, where they can change the name of the payee from Con Edison to Joe Blow,” Farren says. Abagnale’s company developed paper for checks that cannot be “washed,” which My Accountant now uses.

My Accountant can now print out checks on plain paper. Farren says his firm has never had a check forgery, though one check made out to a gardener was altered to change the amount. “The bank caught it,” he says.

Janis retired from My Accountant in 2007, but Farren, 72, is still with the company, which now has 11 employees, including two of Farren’s three sons. One son, Andrew, “began working for us in 1996. He is 32 years old, and he is our computer and information technology guru,” Farren says. Another son, Joe, “began working for us in 2008. He is 41, and he is our operations manager and runs the place while I’m on the road.” Joe left a career as an architect to join the firm.

Farren plans to gradually phase down, working chiefly on business development while his sons take more and more responsibility for running the company and eventually take over.

Would he consider selling it? “We don’t rule out a sale of the company, but it would have to be a special situation where we could bring something to the table for a larger [multifamily office] or similar business.”

The company, he says, is liked by financial advisors, who do the extra accounting work for the clients (likely at a loss) in hopes of later attracting more assets under management.

“Most planners use this service as a loss leader to [build up] money under management,” Farren says.

Mary Rowland can be reached at [email protected]. She has been a business and personal finance journalist for 30 years and has written two books for financial advisors: Best Practices and In Search of the Perfect Model.