The nation's financial regulatory system needs fixing, and bankers can be certain changes are coming. But after months of Congressional hearings, debates and some hysterics, that's still about all the industry knows for sure. Only the broadest outlines of the new regulatory regime have emerged, and Capitol Hill watchers say the window for sweeping changes to occur quickly — and some worried in anger — has probably closed. Instead, regulatory reform is shaping up to be a slow grind through Congress that may last a year or more. Some say the real deadline for passage is not until the summer of 2010, when mid-term campaigning kicks off in earnest.
On balance, this is probably a positive development. Bankers, especially community bankers, fret that a rush to enact reforms — particularly in an industry as complicated, fractured and heavily regulated as financial services — could unfairly target banks that bear little responsibility for the financial crisis. In fact, there is even cautious optimism among some community bankers that the reforms under discussion — from those that would raise the capital levels of too-big-to-fail institutions, to the push for national, uniform standards on regulating particular financial instruments such as mortgages — might actually give outgunned smaller banks a better shot in certain markets and products.