The registered investment advisor industry did a record 123 merger and acquisition deals last year, which was a 37 percent jump over the previous all-time high of 90 M&A deals done in 2014, according to data released Thursday by DeVoe & Company.

The increased velocity in M&A activity has been driven in part by a broad mix of acquirers among RIA firms themselves, consolidators, private equity firms and even banks that are looking for opportunities in a fragmented industry. In addition, the graying of the RIA industry’s founding generation means there are a lot of financial advisors approaching retirement and interested in cashing out.

“We should be seeing double or triple the number of transactions in this industry just to keep up with the growing supply of advisors who will be retiring, says David DeVoe, founder of the San Francisco-based consultant focused on RIAs. “I anticipate that over the next five to seven years we will see a continued increase in mergers and acquisitions.”

DeVoe says private equity firms picked up the pace of RIA acquisitions in 2015 after laying low for several years.

This includes Hellman & Friedman’s purchase of a majority stake in Edelman Financial Services (roughly $15 billion in assets under management at the time of the transaction); TA Associates taking a majority interest in NorthStar Financial Services Group ($275 billion in assets under management and administration among its nine subsidiary wealth management industry service providers); Lightyear Capital buying a majority stake in Wealth Enhancement Group ($4.7 billion in client assets), and Genstar Capital’s purchase of a majority interest in Mercer Advisors (nearly $6 billion in client assets).

These types of so-called mega-deals are becoming relatively commonplace. According to DeVoe & Company, 13 RIA firms with at least $5 billion in AUM sold themselves to another entity last year versus two such transaction in 2014 and three in 2013.

While private equity was a big player in M&A last year, consolidators––i.e., firms such as United Capital and Focus Financial Partners––did the most deals on a percentage basis and accounted for 42 percent of acquisitions. That was down slightly from 44 percent in 2014, but they bought 28 established RIAs in 2015 versus 18 the year before.

“The increase in the other categories offset that,” DeVoe says.

He posits that banks might be on the verge of getting back in a game they used to be significant players in. A decade ago banks dominated the RIA M&A landscape when they were buying about 60 percent of the firms, DeVoe says. But they started dialing that back as some of the deals had mixed success, and pulled back significantly from the market after the Troubled Asset Relief Program was created following the financial crisis.

“But now they’re strategically and economically repositioned to potentially buy RIAs again,” DeVoe says. “I was surprised they’ve sat on the sideline as long as they did, but we’re seeing indications they may be entering the space again.

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