Believe it or not, as of 2013 mobile banking has been around in some form for close to 15 years. But it was the more recent boom in the smartphone industry that quickly turned it from a peripheral convenience to a vital tool. In fact, having the ability to stay on top of account balances has become not just want consumers want, but what they expect. As a result, all the major banks in the U.S. have made significant efforts to improve their mobile banking platforms. The positive feedback from these improvements led app developers to get involved in the mobile banking app race too.

These days, several banking apps exist that help users understand and analyze their spending habits on an annual, monthly and even daily basis. Each year, more and more banking consumers are turning to mobile banking applications to stay up to date with their banking needs. This trend has manifested itself in increased demand for mobile banking platforms and even in the loss of customers by banks that have yet to offer mobile banking services. Experts say that this is a trend that we should get used to. In fact, the growing popularity of mobile banking is expected to change the way banks service customers. It even has the potential to re-shape the landscape of the personal banking industry. (Read about another potential change in the financial industry in Will Bitcoin Survive? 5 Factors from Each Side of the Debate.)

What Consumers Want from a Bank

Consumers used to expect that banks would hold their money, pay them some interest, and maybe provide advice and other brick-and-mortar based services. Now, of course, online banking has made us much greedier. We still want plenty of branches and ATM locations, but we also want to be able to check our balances, deposit checks and make transfers. In other words, we need as much control over our finances as possible and at all time - remote control.

According to a recent survey of bankers conducted by American Banker, 71 percent of banks reported a month-to-month spike in May 2013 of users who checked their balances on their phones. In the same survey, 80 percent of banks reported an increase in the consumer use of mobile check depositing. Another survey conducted by Mary Meeker of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers found that Wells Fargo and Chase reported a 32 percent year-over-year increase in mobile customers as of February 2013. Bank of America even reported a 36 percent quarter-over-quarter increase of its mobile banking customers in the first quarter of 2013. These significant increases indicate that each day, more and more customers are making remote banking transactions.

Banks Juggling Bricks and Apps Service

As customers continue to embrace mobile banking, financial institutions that are too late to change risk alienating customers. Maulik Shah, chief technology officer of Mantra Information Services, the company behind award-winning mobile banking app mBank, sees improvement in the mobile banking space as integral to the success of banking institutions.

"When online banking was a growing trend many years ago, all banks had to offer it to stay in business, " Shah said. "Banks that couldn’t upgrade their solution offerings [to meet] the changing times couldn’t survive. Today, mobile banking is the standard, with more than 50 percent of banking customers demanding it. No bank can afford to lose such a large number of customers without risking their business."

Of course, many customers now expect a mobile banking platform that will help them to manage account activity. In many cases, it's the biggest banks that have made the first move here, offering everything from online budgeting tools to coupons for online retailers. According to a report from Fidelity National Association, the top 10 banks account for 58 percent of mobile banking customers. While almost of all of the major banks have moved to be at the forefront of this change, some have yet to make the transition.

Branch Banks: An Endangered Species?

The growth in mobile banking use represents a huge opportunity for banking institutions to cut costs, increase efficiency and expand their customer bases. According to a report released by Javelin Strategy and Research, banking institutions have the potential to save millions in operational expenses each year. In terms of hard numbers, an in-person banking transaction costs a bank about $4.25. A mobile transaction costs only a dime. By converting just one in-person transaction by each consumer to a mobile transaction, each banking institution stands to gain $28.38 per customer each year. In a time when financial institutions are looking for more ways to become leaner and more profitable, mobile banking seems to hold the key to achieving both.

The downside here is that while it may be convenient for account holders, mobile banking's likely to come at a price; many experts believe that in the future, banks will charge fees for this perk. This notion is supported by the fact that a)banks generally try to charge a fee for everything, and b) data from a survey conducted by Power Consulting on 3,200 banks revealed that as many as one in three consumers were willing to pay more to use mobile banking features, a 13 percent increase from the same time last year. While that figure falls short of a majority of consumers, it shows how highly consumers rate online services.

Who Does Mobile Banking Work For?

This ultimately raises the question of how mobile banking will change the banking industry. Or maybe the question we should be asking is who benefits the most: consumers or the banks? On one hand, mobile banking creates an avenue for cheaper, easier transactions, which could mean bigger profits for banks. That said, it could make smaller banks much more viable. Many experts believe that this may make it easier for online and community banks to compete for customers. That in itself could be a good thing for consumers. Plus, mobile banking allows customers to handle banking transactions more quickly and conveniently, which also has value.

Of course, if we've learned anything from the digital revolution, it's that bank branches probably won't disappear altogether. There may be fewer branches and less service, but there's still value in visiting a bank branch. Once that disappears, well, there'll probably be an app to replace it.