By at least one metric, mergers and acquisitions activity among registered investment advisors jumped last year. According to data released today by Schwab Advisor Services, the total value of assets under management from M&A deals done last year rose 34% versus the prior year, to $58.8 billion.

At the same time, the 45 transactions completed in 2012 were a 21% drop from the 57 deals done in 2011. It was also a far cry from the 70 deals done in 2010, which was the largest total since Schwab began tracking this space in 2004.

“Deal volume will ebb and flow, especially on a quarterly basis,” says Jon Beatty, senior vice president of sales and relationship management at Schwab Advisor Services. “What strikes me is the consistency [of deals made] over the past five years in a less-than-cooperative marketplace.”

The biggest driver in last year’s M&A activity (55% of transactions by buyer type) were the so-called national acquiring firms, a category that includes the likes of United Capital, HighTower Advisors, Dynasty Financial Partners and Washington Wealth Management, among others.

“We see the national acquiring firms providing a good overall alternative in the industry’s growth because it gives financial advisors a choice regarding succession and they’re a growth catalyst because they’re grabbing advisors who are going independent,” Beatty says. “That means we’re adding new advisors to the marketplace.”

One of the main drivers of M&A activity in recent years––RIAs buying other RIAs––fell dramatically last year to just 20% of transactions by buyer type. That’s down from 44% in 2011.

Beatty attributes that to advisors being more focused on client service than with making deals as they helped clients navigate through year-end fiscal cliff and associated tax code uncertainty that loomed over 2012.

According to Schwab, 16% of M&A deals last year were made by the “Other” category that comprises private equity, pooled investment funds and other financial services firms.

Regional banks represented 9% of deals made last year, while national banks continued to be a non factor by making no deals last year––down from 2% of transactions made in 2011. For context, Schwab data shows that national banks comprised 37% of M&A deals made in 2004. But they beat a steady retreat during the next three years, and since 2008 have been nearly nonexistent in the RIA M&A space.

Schwab says its data focuses on advisor firms with at least $50 million in assets and tracks deal activity across the industry, and not just those that go through Schwab.