Momentum continued in the RIA mergers and acquisitions space with the industry carrying out 33 transactions in the first quarter of 2016, a slight dip from the record 37 deals in Q1 2015, according to just-released research by DeVoe & Co.

Large RIAs managing assets between $1 billion and $5 billion sold in “record numbers” during Q1 2016, comprising 21% of the transactions year to date, nearly double the average 11% of total transactions this group performs in an entire year, the research says.

DeVoe notes that these “highly prized firms” are sought after by banks, consolidators, “mega-RIAs” and, in some cases, private equity.

RIA M&A activity continues to be driven by “high interest from a wide breadth of well-financed acquirers, the aging demographics of RIA owners, and the potential strategic power of combining RIAs,” DeVoe says. “Over time, the industry’s lack of succession planning will likely become a leading driver for RIA sales, as a growing number of retiring principals are unable to sell their equity internally.”

The average assets under management of established RIA sellers exceeded $1 billion, the survey notes, continuing the “upward trajectory.” Meanwhile, banks were active acquirers, maintaining the momentum of re-engaging in RIAs as a growth/cross-sale strategy.

“The surge in RIA M&A activity that began two years ago continued its momentum in the first quarter of 2016,” said David DeVoe, managing partner. “This was one of the strongest quarters of M&A activity that the industry has experienced, which indicates an increased likelihood of continued high transaction volume.”

During the first 90 days of 2016, banks made three high-profile transactions, which accounted for more than the total deals they made during the entire years of 2013 and 2014.

Mellon Bank and Johnson Finan­cial each acquired $2 billion-plus firms, and BOK Financial bought Weaver Wealth Management from the eponymous CPA firm, DeVoe notes. “Year to date banks are acquiring at three times the pace that they have previously over the last several years.”

That being said, however, RIA firms became “the dominant acquirer category,” the survey reports. “This quarter, RIAs won the ongoing tug-of-war versus the consolidators as the acquirer of choice, and acquired nearly two-thirds of established RIAs sold during the period.”

The DeVoe RIA Deal Book seeks to track all mergers, sales and acquisitions of firms that are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a RIAs. The report includes all transactions identified with over $100 million in AUM.

— Check out RIA Deals Had a Record Year: Schwab on ThinkAdvisor.