The first quarter saw an uptick in mergers and acquisitions among independent registered investment advisors, according to data from Schwab Advisor Services. At the same time, there was a hefty drop in the amount of assets under management involved in those deals.

Schwab reported 13 M&A deals across the RIA landscape during the quarter, which was the most since the 17 deals completed in last year’s first quarter. That puts 2013 on pace to exceed last year’s total of 45 deals.

However, the average deal size of $447 million was significantly smaller than both the previous quarter and last year’s first quarter. All told, assets under management in the 13 deals totaled $5.8 billion, a pace that would significantly underperform year-end totals from each of the past six years.

“One quarter into the year does not show a trend,” says Jon Beatty, senior vice president, sales and relationship management at Schwab Advisor Services. “If you look at years past, however, there is a fluctuation in size of deals.”

Unlike last year’s first quarter, which saw a large deal involving Affiliated Managers Group Inc.’s purchase of a majority equity stake in Veritable LP, a $10 billion firm, this year’s action in the first quarter didn’t have any megadeals to boost the AUM total.

According to Schwab, one of the consistent trends in the RIA M&A space through the years has been the leading roles played by RIAs and what Schwab calls strategic acquiring firms, a group that includes the likes of United Capital, HighTower Advisors, Dynasty Financial Partners and Washington Wealth Management.

RIAs represented 54 percent of the buyers in this year’s first quarter, while strategic acquirers accounted for 38 percent.

The bank channel (both regional and national) and other acquirers––such as private equity, pooled investment funds and other financial services firms––have increasingly played a smaller role.

RIAs who are sellers are most interested in working with firms cut from the same cloth and/or who are clearly attuned to the RIA business model, Beatty says. “That’s why selling to another RIA is clearly appealing, or why they opt for a strategic acquirer that’s built specifically to work with RIAs,” he notes.