Electronic signature technology (e-signature) has been around for a number of years. In fact, during a recent panel discussion that I moderated at the FSI Conference, the panelists, including Tom Embrogno of Docupace Technologies, Marshall Levin of Beacon Strategies and Robert Powell of Laser App, agreed that e-signatures are not necessarily cutting edge anymore. Given that this technology has been with us for a while, it is interesting that the advisor community has been slow to adopt it. There are a number of good reasons why e-signatures have not become a standard practice, and we shouldn’t expect e-signature technology to take over the advisor community yet. However, there are many opportunities for advisors to benefit from it and ultimately be more efficient.
There are several e-signature solutions available, like DocuSign, EchoSign and Right Signature. You can work with these providers directly or utilize the relationship they may have with your custodian or broker-dealer. First, you need to consider the process that will work best with your clients. Are they comfortable with technology? How much hand-holding do you do to help a client complete forms and applications? E-signatures can help improve this process and overall experience, but it can also make it worse. There may be a certain client type that is right for using this technology, and there are certain situations that are suited for utilizing e-signatures.
As you review e-signature solutions, consider your firm’s current adoption of paperless systems. Do you currently scan and electronically store all of your documents? In order to embrace e-signatures, you need to be proficient in imaging and data capture technology. An electronically signed document will not yield the same efficiency gains if you ultimately print it out and store it.
If you plan to utilize e-signature capabilities, it is important that the client can sign all forms using an e-signature. Otherwise, it is a broken process where the client signs one form a certain way and another form a very different way. This doesn’t make much sense and can often lead to confusion on behalf of the client. The new account process is generally the first “paperwork” experience as a prospect is converted to a new client, so advisors want to control all aspects of this experience to ensure it goes smoothly. This is why you should select an e-signature provider that has a presentation and capture process that will meld smoothly with your practices and the forms you use regularly.
The type of accounts that you normally open and work with can also impact how you utilize e-signatures. Generally speaking, the most common types of e-signature technology involve your clients selecting a ready-made signature (created by the system) or actually signing the document electronically using their mouse or their finger on a touchpad, tablet or mobile device. For certain types of accounts, it may be necessary to obtain a client’s actual signature. For example, it may be important for your custodian or your client’s bank to know what your client’s signature looks like if he or she plans to use check-writing features or bank wires. It would be very challenging for your custodian to verify if a check was signed by your client and not forged if there is no signature on file. Most importantly, you don’t want to go through the process of adopting e-signature technology, but then inadvertently limit the account solutions available because of the type of e-signature utilized.
One of the interesting challenges for advisors in utilizing e-signature technology is understanding when it is best to use it. Some client engagements are well-suited for e-signature technology and others might add complexity that compromises the expected benefits.