While cruising the trade publications, I can’t help but notice all the ads from broker-dealers. Each one attempts to put its own slant on what it is a broker wants in order to switch firms. Some ads are old school and tout high payouts.

I’ve even seen some that pay more than 100 percent. Hmm… I wonder how they can do that. Think about the bragging rights you’ll have with your other broker friends when you tell them you have a 105 percent payout. Just don’t mention the $115 ticket charges and $10,000 a year E&O insurance.

Leading technology is another phrase I see over and over again. Beware of this phrase as well. Technology is in the eye of the beholder. Your version of great technology is going to be different from someone else’s. My father-in-law is still mesmerized by how technologically advanced the telephone answering machine is. “How the hell do they make those tapes so small?” To him, a cell phone is something only an astronaut needs.

If technology is your thing, before you sign on the dotted line, peel a few layers off the BD onion. Ask how many people work in the technology department and then talk to a few of them. You’ll know they are exaggerating a bit if you find out they include the receptionist (she turns on the computers in the morning) and the office services guy (he carries the computers to a new employee’s desk). The reality may be, the entire tech department is three geeks in a cubicle and one is going on maternity leave next month.

If a BD’s technology is important to you, it pays to be a little skeptical. Don’t just take the smooth talking recruiter’s word for it. A good friend of mine works for a BD with leading technology and his tech department can’t get his phone to forward. I’m pretty sure my father-in-law is the CIO there.

I hate being the guy that tells you there’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny, but sometimes the truth is ugly. The much-coveted Broker-Dealer of the Year award is a sham… there, I said it. Now I love a good award as much as the next guy, but I think how you win the award means something too. If I tell you its very similar to the voting on American Idol, I wouldn’t be that far off. Granted, you can’t text your vote.

This award is based off of surveys that financial advisors fill out and send in to a magazine. As Johnny Carson used to say, the results sit in a hermetically sealed jar on Funk and Wagnall’s front porch until the magazine decides to reveal them in their BD of the Year issue. There are a bunch of different categories so there can be a bunch of different BDs that can say they won. If American Idol had done this, Danny Gokey could have said he won.

The award should really go to the marketing departments of the broker-dealers. They are the ones that coordinate sending the survey to the reps. Some actually fill out the info on how great they are and get the reps to send it in. Some even offer a gift to reps that send in the survey. Now c’mon, does that seem like the real deal?

So what am I saying? Well if you are in the market to change broker-dealers, don’t rely on glossy ads and don’t take anyone’s word for it. Do your own research on a BD, talk to some of their advisors and let them put you on a plane and put you up in the Ritz for a visit. As I’ve said before, changing broker dealers is like getting married. If you’re smart, you only want to do it two or three times (tops) in your life.

Gotta run. I’ve got a full day of texting my votes in for the Financial Writer of the Year Award. Wish me luck!