Ayana Forward
Ayana Forward has completed more than 200 financial plans for client households at her firm Retirement In View, which she opened in 2018. Photo by Dave Chan

Ayana Forward knew exactly what her mission was when she established Retirement In View five years ago. The Ottawa-based financial advisor aspired to be a fee-only planner for clients who were in the latter stages of their working career and preparing for retirement.

“I knew the demographics I wanted to work with,” Forward said. “The baby boomers were near retirement, so I wanted to focus on that age range, which is typically late 50s– early 60s. I knew there would be demand.”

One of Forward’s first clients was a retired former colleague, who applauded her initiative in establishing her own firm. His taking the time to recognize that achievement “was a really proud moment for me,” she said.

That also served as validation that there was demand for services from the demographic she’d chosen, as additional clients soon followed.

Forward, 44, is a native of Dundas, Ont. She moved to the National Capital Region in 1997, when she was recruited by the University of Ottawa to play as a midfielder for the women’s soccer team, the Gee-Gees. She knew she wanted a career in business, so she enrolled in the university’s bachelor of commerce program. She earned her degree in 2002 and has lived and worked in the Ottawa area ever since.

Forward began her business career by working in sports administration with Field Hockey Canada for five years.

“It was fun. I loved sports. So, I was pretty happy to work in that industry,” she said. “It just wasn’t really where I could see myself long term. I wanted to see what I could do on the financial planning side.”

Forward decided to pursue a career in insurance. She began working with State Farm Insurance Canada in 2006 (now part of the Desjardins Group), as a financial services representative.

State Farm provided a strong training ground, involving property and casualty (P&C) insurance and financial planning opportunities, particularly in working with RRSPs and RESPs. Forward earned her life insurance and mutual fund licences in 2007 so she could place investments herself. She then earned the certified financial planner designation in 2008.

Forward credits her first boss at State Farm, Dan Sims, as an early mentor who helped her learn the ropes of the insurance industry.

“With property and casualty insurance, most incoming calls are difficult,” Forward said. “Someone has just been in an accident, their house has been damaged or their insurance rates just went up. He really helped me develop a skill set around having empathy for the person on the other end of the line.”

Forward left State Farm in 2012 to work briefly at Intact Insurance, another P&C company, as an underwriter, but the position did not fit her goals. “It wasn’t client-facing,” she said, “and it didn’t take me very long to realize that wasn’t right for me. I needed to be working with clients.”

Forward found exactly what she was looking for when she joined Ryan Lamontagne Inc., a boutique, fee-based financial planning firm, as an associate financial planner. “I was really lucky to be mentored by some of the best financial planners in Ontario,” she said of her time with that firm.

She cited founding partner Marc Lamontagne for his mentorship. “Marc provided me with intangible experience. I was able to learn how to interpret projections and make recommendations,” she said.

When Forward founded Retirement In View in early 2018, her first task was to build a website, which attracted many clients initially, as did word-of-mouth referrals. “Some of the people I’d worked with before at Ryan Lamontagne wanted to continue working with me, so that was a big help and a nice vote of confidence,” she said.

Forward has completed more than 200 financial plans for client households. About two-thirds of her revenue comes from fee-only financial planning and the remaining third is from asset-based fees. If a client requests investment advice, Forward enlists the services of a portfolio management firm.

“I do kind of a hybrid between fee-based and fee-only planning,” she said. “It gives clients the opportunity to choose what they are looking for rather than [me] dictating it to them. I think my practice is pretty unique in that way.”

Clients are comforted to know that she is providing independent financial advice without feeling that somebody is pressuring them to purchase particular products, she said.

“The demand is so high right now for fee-only planners,” Forward said. “There are so few of us doing that route. I’m never lacking for clients. The best part for me is I get everyone’s information, determine where they can improve, and then enjoy being able to back up why I’m making a recommendation.”

Forward said her investment philosophy with clients nearing retirement can change, depending on economic conditions.

For example, she noted that one-year GICs can be a good place for conservative investors to put some of their portfolio. As recently as two years ago, when GICs offered a yield of 1%–2%, she could not have given the same advice.

“I still want to see people in equities, but I feel there is a way, on the conservative side, where you can have exposure to equities. You can have pretty stable companies in a portfolio regardless of your age — and they’re probably going to be pretty solid players over the long term,” Forward said.

As a sole practitioner, Forward outsources some services to specialists such as lawyers and mortgage and real estate professionals when clients require assistance outside of her own specialties.

“When I went independent, one of the drawbacks was being by myself, so I joined the Financial Planning Association of Canada as a founding member,” Forward said. “That’s a really active forum, with a great cross-section of experts, and that’s helped me if I’ve ever had a question.”

Forward volunteers for the Canada Revenue Agency’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program and the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. Biking, travel, crossword puzzles and other leisurely pursuits with her husband, Andrew, and two sons are among her favourite personal activities.

She still has a passion for soccer, the sport that was the catalyst for her move to the University of Ottawa.

“I started my own scholarship for a soccer player at the university,” Forward said. “That’s something that was on my bucket list. It’s a nice thing to be able to give back.”