There are some new big dealmakers in the RIA space.

While the number and size of RIA mergers and acquisitions stayed relatively constant last year, the players shifted sharply in 2012, according to a new report released Monday by Schwab Advisor Services.

National acquiring firms were buyers in 55% of all M&A deals in 2012, the report found, a sharp increase from 2011, when they accounted for just 30% of the transactions.

Meanwhile, RIA firms were buyers in just 20% of last year's deals, down from 44% for a year earlier.

The past year was "the year of the roll-up firm," says Jon Beatty, senior VP of sales and relationship management for Schwab Advisor Services. "A lot of the acquisitions were fueled by advisors leaving wirehouses."


Overall, the number of deals fell in 2012, to 45 from 57 in 2011, but the deal values also jumped sharply, the report found: The assets under management of competed deals totaled $58.8 billion, up from $43.9 billion the previous year.

Both figures were at the second-lowest level in five years.

At Dynasty Financial Partners, whose affiliated RIA firms counted as individual buyers, CEO Shirl Penney predicts a rebound for RIA acquirers. Beyond the breakaway trend, he points to a few other factors fueling acquisitions -- namely, a growing client push toward independent advice, as well as succession planning worries.

"We're getting calls from people with a three- to five-year runway" toward retirement, Penney says. These advisors are looking to go independent now, with an eye toward selling their business further down the line, he explains: "They're saying, let me think about succession now, and then you can help us find an acquirer."