The number of mergers involving registered investment advisory firms remains lackluster this year, but transactions among independent RIAs are poised for a resurgence, says a new study.

"Capital constraints, economic uncertainty and increased levels of caution characterize the current attitudes of marketplace participants and serve as a leading catalyst for slowing M&A activity," says Mark Tibergien, chief executive officer of Pershing Advisor Solutions, which published the study with consulting and research firm FA Insights.

"However, despite the current slowdown, industry M&A activity appears poised for a rebound," Tibergien continues. "Advisory firm owners are interested in liquidity, serial buyers remain strongly committed to their longer-term acquisition strategies and the pace of RIA-to-RIA mergers and acquisitions has increased."

In 2007 a record 67 transactions occurred involving the merger or sale of an RIA with at least $100 million or more in assets under management. Through the first three quarters of 2009, 31 transactions have been recorded, according to the study, Real Deals 2009: Definitive Information on Mergers and Acquisitions for Advisors. The 2009 pace is similar to that of 2008, when transactions dropped to 44 for the year.

According to the report, RIAs transacting with other RIAs have become the most common deal type, accounting for 29% of all transactions year-to-date. The study finds that the trend of increasing RIA-to-RIA mergers and acquisitions will continue, as RIAs become more confident and more aware of the benefits that can be gained by pursuing a merger or acquisition with a similar firm.

Serial buyers-which peaked at 36% of all transactions in 2008-dropped to a 26% share of deals through the first three-quarters of 2009. Serial buyers remain committed to long-term acquisition strategies, but are narrowing their scope on what constitutes a desirable acquisition, particularly in terms of ensuring that a strategic fit is evident prior to entertaining a deal, the report says. Serial buyers are also paying increased attention to deals involving smaller firms, breakaway brokers, non-U.S. firms and niche market specialists, it adds.

Although banks haven't been as active in acquiring RIA firms since the credit crisis, they still remain active buyers, the study says. From January 2008 through September of 2009, 18 deals were initiated by banks or trust companies, the study says. Typical acquirers tend to be regional banks that have managed to maintain healthy balance sheets.

"Immediate financial reward is no longer the primary measure of deal-making success, says Dan Inveen, a principal at FA Insight. "Today's best transactions are founded on a shared vision and commitment of parties to create long-term value. It is essential that both buyers and sellers understand the other in terms of personality, compatibility and cultural fit."