Folks will check the histories of their maids, their baby-sitters, but never even think of checking the backgrounds of their brokers.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is a non-government regulator of all security firms in the United States. It watch-dogs 5,000 firms and more than 650,000 brokers, advisors and agents.
FINRA runs a terrific web site called Broker Check (http://www.finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck/index.htm). From this single site, you can run background checks on both firms and individual brokers/financial advisors. Look up their licenses, trade organizations, accreditations, even links to disciplinary actions if there are any.
Best of all, it's free.
You can also research brokers and financial advisors on your state's regulatory web sites. In Tennessee, browse the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions or the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance licensure search engine (http://www.tennessee.gov/tdfi/).
In Mississippi, browse the Mississippi Department of Banking & Consumer Finance (http://www.dbcf.state.ms.us/).
In Arkansas, browse the Arkansas State Bank Department when researching Arkansas-chartered banks and mortgage brokers (http://www.arkansas.gov/bank/). For securities, browse the Arkansas Securities Department (http://www.securities.arkansas.gov/).