About a third of RIA firms are looking buy, but apparently no one wants to sell. Merger and acquisition activity among independent advisors got off to a slow start this year, failing to surpass the watermark reached early in 2012.

Thirteen transactions—with assets totaling $5.8 billion—took place, according to a report released by Schwab Advisor Services on Thursday. Among the notable deals was U.K.-based Aberdeen Asset Management’s acquisition of Artio Global Management in February for $175 million.

In January Exencial Wealth picked up Investors Asset Management, which oversaw $190 million in AUM, and New England-based Optimum Growth Advisors added $141 million in AUM when it merged with Atlanta Capital Group.

Three quarters of increasing or flat growth of M&A activity is encouraging, however the relatively low number of transactions is concerning, says M&A consultant David DeVoe of DeVoe & Co.  “The industry should be seeing over 100 external sales a year – nearly two times what we are seeing in actual transactions,” he says. 

But first quarter results do not necessarily set the tone for the year, says Jon Beatty, the senior vice president of Schwab Advisor Services’ sales and relationship management. “I don’t put a lot of stock in one quarter’s numbers,” he says.

Beatty called last year’s 17 deals within the first quarter “a spike,” saying that this quarter’s results were consistent—both in the number of deals as well as the assets involved—as previous years.

 “We’re going to see consistency until we get a catalyst,” Beatty says. “People are waiting for the right environment.”

And when that happens, there will be a lot of interested parties. Approximately 27 percent of RIAs surveyed by Schwab said they wanted to buy another RIA firm. And even in the midst of the slow start to the year, RIAs scored 54 percent of the total transactions closed in the first quarter of 2013.

“This quarter was dominated by the RIA segment,” Beatty says. “We see that RIAs are becoming more confidant, more motivated.” National acquiring firms like HighTower also came out strong, taking home 38 percent of the deals made.

 “Given RIAs enthusiasm for mergers and acquisitions, coupled with the strong flows recorded to date, we believe there will be an increase in appetite for deals among RIAs moving forward if the economy improves and capital and liquidity becomes more accessible,” stated Beatty.