President Obama's proposed overhaul of the regulatory structure for the nation's financial systems was received warily by the local banking community yesterday.
For the most part, the president's intentions - to put in place safeguards to avoid another financial meltdown - were seen as admirable, but there remained concern that too many new regulations could wind up choking the credit market.
Most of the bankers interviewed were tentative in their views, largely because they had not seen or had time to weigh the fine print of Obama's plan.
"The devil is in the details," said Ronald Geib, president and chief executive officer of Harleysville Savings Financial Corp. "I always worry we can overreact and the pendulum can swing too far."
Robert H. King, president and chief executive officer of Sterling Bank of Mount Laurel, was cautious as well.
"It is easy to float an idea, a proposal," King said. "It is harder for it to be effective. I am looking forward to a healthy debate on these proposals."
Obama's plan calls for a number of wide-ranging changes to stiffen regulation of the financial sector, among them establishing a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers from deceptive practices and closing the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTF), which had been overseeing many of the recently failed financial institutions, including American International Group Inc.
Gerry Banmiller, president and chief executive officer of 1st Colonial National Bank, based in Collingswood, saw a benefit in closing the OTF, but he was dubious of the value of a new consumer office.
Under Obama's plan, institutions regulated by the OTF would now fall under the oversight of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which Banmiller said had a better track record.
"I think that is a good thing for taxpayers," he said.
As for the consumer office, Banmiller shrugged.
"Consumer protection is an oxymoron," he said. "It doesn't work. Only the consumer can protect himself. The government can't do it."
Kevin M. Blakely, president and chief executive officer of the Risk Management Association, a professional group for bank risk officers, saw Obama's plan as representing "both a necessary and important step forward" to avoid another financial collapse.
Like others, Blakely said time would tell how effective the proposals would be. But for the moment, he did not anticipate their having a large effect on the day-to-day lives of most consumers.
"For the most part, the average citizen will not see much change," he said.