Has the great diaspora of breakaway brokers to Independence Land—either independent b/ds or RIAs—climaxed? Was the trend to independence over hyped in the first place? Today’s third-quarter numbers released by Schwab, the industry bellwether, makes one wonder.

In the third quarter, net new assets in its Advisor Services unit declined by 28 percent over the same period a year ago. Schwab’s Advisor Services unit, its RIA platform, dragged in just $8 billion in net new assets for the third quarter 2010. That even compares unfavorably to the $10.2 it gathered in the second quarter of this year.

(Overall Charles Schwab Corp. income fell 38 percent, to $124 million from $200 million for the year-earlier period, the San Francisco-based financial services giant reported today. The diminished results were due to a one-off charge and some losses in its money market funds. Adjusting for the charges, profits rose 9 percent, the company said.)

Despite the “sharp drop” in third-quarter net income, Schwab’s position as an industry leader remains secure, said Alois Pirker, research director for Aite Group of Boston. Client assets for Schwab’s RIA platform, the Advisor Services division, rose to $609.9 billion in the third quarter, an 8 percent increase from the year-earlier period and a 2 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Schwab spokesperson Greg Gable cited a seasonal summer slowdown and an economic environment where “clients are more hesitant to put their money to work investing” as reasons for the decline. Industry consultant Tim Welsh, president of Nexus Strategy of Larkspur, California, said the decline reflected a tailing off of breakaway brokers and advisors migrating to Schwab’s platform.

“Schwab recruiting benefitted tremendously from the financial crisis, but as things have stabilized, it has slowed down, and the retention packages offered by wirehouses have been substantial,” Welsh said. “But when those packages are fulfilled, I think you’ll see the numbers come back.”

“Schwab was on-boarding like crazy, and that can’t go on forever,” Pirker agreed. “The large firms have stabilized and of course other firms have been recruiting aggressively as well. But my bet would be that while breakaways have slowed, you will see continued growth in the future, but at a lower level.”

No new advisor numbers are available for 2010, but Schwab estimates approximately the same number of teams going independent this year as in 2009, when it added 172 RIAs to its platform. But the trend seems to be waning.

Schwab Advisor Services remains the largest custodian in the channel, with over 6,000 RIAs on its platform. Schwab plans to invest in “a major rebuild of our investment advisor service and custodial platform,” Walt Bettinger, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.