A year and a half after the country came perilously close to economic collapse, average Americans are sitting up and taking notice of the debate in Washington over financial reform.
No one wants another financial crisis, and consumers, the White House, Congress, regulators and bankers of all stripes are agreed that financial reform is needed.
There is also broad agreement about the primary issues on which reform must focus, including ending the notion that any one institution is "too big to fail" and closing regulatory gaps that let securities firms and other nonbanks create huge problems for the economy.
The legislation pending in Congress takes some positive steps toward addressing these matters. But it falls short in several areas and goes overboard in others.
Traditional banks did not bring about the financial crisis. Their mission is, as it has always been, to serve their local communities and make credit available to consumers and small businesses.
The bill before the Senate unfortunately contains provisions that would hinder their ability to do this effectively, thus crimping the credit that local economies so badly need to get back on track.
Consider, for example, the plan to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It sounds great in theory, and bankers strongly support improving consumer protections.
But in practice, creating a bureaucracy will produce more problems than it will solve, by putting government in the business of deciding what products are right for bank customers.
Community banks could reasonably conclude that it is not worth offering checking accounts, savings programs, home equity loans or other products that are specifically designed for their local markets because they lack the bureau's stamp of approval.
This kind of invasive oversight undermines the essence and strength of community banks — namely, the relationships we have with our customers.
How can we carry out our mission if we cannot tailor products to meet our customers' specific needs?
Then there is the issue of uneven enforcement of the rules.
The new consumer rules would apply to both banks and nonbanks, but enforcement against nonbanks, many of which contributed greatly to the economic crisis, would be weak or nonexistent in many cases.
Unlike the banking industry, nonbanks lack a strong infrastructure for examination and enforcement of rules.
How does this protect consumers from mortgage brokers or other financial entities outside the traditional banking industry that made a disproportionate share of toxic loans?
Other concerns exist.
Ending "too big to fail" is crucial, yet the Senate bill falls short in this regard.
It also contains provisions that will restrict credit for consumers and small businesses, and it does not provide for adequate oversight of accounting rules that greatly worsened the crisis.
Bankers support financial reform, but it needs to be done well — and it especially needs to be done with a careful eye toward the impact on communities like ours.
These issues are important, and vigorous debate should be encouraged. The consequences of getting reform wrong are too great to be treated lightly.