Managing Money What Early Adopters Are Most Excited About in 2019

by Polly Brewster | March 08, 2019

“Early adopter” might seem like a buzzy marketing term, but it’s actually been around since the 1960s.

It was first coined in reference to rural farmers who used hybrid seeds. “Early adopter” quickly spread beyond its agricultural roots and now refers to just about anyone who is willing to try out a new product, test an emerging technology or even wear a new cutting-edge style.

“The first few people to see the next hot movie, the first few people to own a cellular phone, the first few people to wear the new pastels and brights.” That’s how Michael J. Wolf describes early adopters in his book The Entertainment Economy. In other words, they are alphas who lead the way in setting consumer trends. “Theirs is the key role of connecting with the concept behind a product, then adopting that product, and finally validating it for the rest of society,” Wolf writes.

But who are early adopters?

“Early adopters are willing to make a mistake, just as good persuaders are willing to be rejected,” explains Daniel Pink, a bestselling author of four books, including When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

What drives them? “Novelty,” Pink says, “which both neuroscience and psychology have shown is a powerful motivator. They crave novelty. But they also probably want influence and attention.” That openness makes early adopters inherently important to inventors and innovators since they’re willing to try out a new product or service — and give their feedback.

“Industries, companies and individuals can all be early adopters,” points out Rachel Carpenter, head of insights and design strategy at Citi FinTech. Carpenter notes that “early adopters see themselves as very sociable and have an insatiable curiosity about how to better manage their lives through technology — especially when it comes to personal finances.” These findings came through in the Smarter Connections Research Study in which Citi polled global attitudes toward digital financial tools.

When smartphones hit the market, manufacturers actively sought out critiques from the phones’ early adopters to make the software more user-friendly. Your techie-trendsetter cousin who waited in line for that first smartphone? She’s a key reason why smartphones are now so intuitive and so widespread. And this early adopter role isn’t new: Benjamin Franklin has been widely credited with inventing bifocal glasses, but some now believe that he was actually an early adopter who helped improve and popularize the lenses, with his famous appearance spreading word of the new innovation.

Your techie-trendsetter cousin who waited in line for that first smartphone? She’s a key reason why smartphones are now so intuitive and so widespread.
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What are early adopters excited about in 2019?

There are some big changes coming in the tech space. Remember that, for years, there were rumors smartphones would become bendable, and then videos emerged of people snapping their phones in half? Well, at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, rumor became fact: bendable phones are here. There is currently one on the market, despite early adopters’ criticisms of its ability to make apps work well on a bendable screen. Developers across the industry are taking note.

Virtual reality (VR) is poised to be the next frontier for tech adoption. About 10 million people in the US own and use a VR headset more than once a month, but those users have plenty to say about the weight and pixel quality of their headsets. Lighter headsets with better imaging are in the works to satisfy early adopters’ demands; the less cumbersome headsets become, the more likely they will catch fire with a wider audience.

On the health front, early adopters are buzzing about smartwatches that go beyond tracking workouts. The next generation of wearable gadgets are expected to track sleep more robustly and may be able to monitor hypertension and diabetes. At CES 2019, Omron debuted the HeartGuide, a watch that aims to conduct the same kind of blood pressure measurement taken at the doctor’s office. 

Athletic African American woman smiling as she holds a modern water bottle during a run

And what about finances?

When it comes to banking, early adopters are integral to innovation. Their influence has led to many of the everyday banking changes all consumers today depend on. Mobile banking, digital wallets, shopping apps and other kinds of financial technology — commonly called fintech — are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. Consider peer-to-peer lending tools; today those technologies support microlending and crowdfunding platforms for inventive new products (like a cooler with a built-in blender and wireless speaker) — and they only worked because early adopters were willing to take a chance on them.

Todd Kunsman runs the Invested Wallet blog and routinely tries out new finance applications. Kunsman says many of his peers are doing the same. "Being that we grew up with technology and mobile capabilities, or that we’re looking for ways to improve financially, I see that more of us are open to testing out banking and fintech products," he explains.

Banks and fintech companies increasingly interact with (and rely on) forward-thinking users who are willing to test out new technologies in order to help create a better experience for the rest of us. In December 2017, Citi launched Canvas, designed by CitiSM, a beta testing community designed with the needs, experiences and ideas of everyday people in mind. "Citi is talking to customers and building financial prototypes, then putting it in their hands," explains Heather Dahill, director of marketing for Citi FinTech.

Early adopters brought about the smartphone revolution and will continue to lead the way in banking, technology and healthcare, where real-life experience builds the foundation for a smarter, more productive future.

Polly Brewster

is a freelance editor and writer based in Brooklyn, and was an early adopter of the Citi Bike program in NYC. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, InStyle and Entrepreneur.