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

But at the same time, there were only 45 transactions completed in 2012, a 21% drop from the 57 deals done in 2011. It was a far cry from the 70 deals done in 2010, the largest number since Schwab began tracking the space in 2004.

“Deal volume will ebb and flow, especially on a quarterly basis,” says Jon Beatty, the 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 most M&A activity (55% of the transactions by buyer type) came from big national acquiring firms—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.”

The big trend of RIAs buying other RIAs, however, fell dramatically last year to just 20% of transactions by buyer type. That’s down from 44% in 2011. Beatty says this is because advisors are lately more focused on client service than making deals. Financial planners recently had to help their clients navigate through 2012, with its looming fiscal cliff and the associated tax code uncertainty.

Outside those types of transactions, Schwab says 16% of M&A deals last year were made in the “other” category—by private equity, pooled investment funds and other financial services firms.

Regional banks struck 9% of the deals last year. National banks were still a non-factor, making no deals––and after making only 2% of the deals in 2011. For context, Schwab data shows that national banks made 37% of the M&A deals in 2004. But they beat a steady retreat during the next three years, and since 2008 have been nearly nonexistent in the RIA acquisition space.

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