The Employee Benefits Security Administration will be changing the rules for submitting electronic signatures along with Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF employee benefit plan annual reports.

EBSA, an arm of the U.S. Labor Department, made the change after the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries, Arlington, Va., had about 800 retirement plan services firms join with it in February to ask EBSA for help with easing the rules governing use of plan administrator electronic signatures.

The change affects service providers that help employers file plan annual reports through the EFAST2 electronic filing system.

EBSA now requires sponsors to file all plan annual reports through EFAST2.

The new rule change gives service providers the ability to keep images of plan administrator signatures on file in the PDF format. A service provider must include the administrator signature PDF as an attachment when submitting a plan annual report through EFAST2, according to EBSA officials.

The service provider must back up the electronic filing by keeping a paper copy of the report that has been signed by the administrator in the traditional way.

The service provider must tell the plan administrator that the signature PDF will accompany the rest of the electronic version of the plan report, and that the image will be posted on the Web, EBSA officials say.

The service provider also must include the provider’s own signing credentials.

EBSA’s explanation of the EFAST2 credentials process is available here.

“The relief provided will be extremely beneficial–particularly to small employers who are challenged by the new mandatory electronic filing system,” Craig Hoffman, the ASPPA general counsel, says in a statement about the change. “The revised procedures will reduce the cost and burden to plan sponsors, while ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the annual report.”

Originally, EBSA was going to require each plan sponsor to get EFAST2 filing credentials on its own, ASPPA says.

Under that system, ASPPA says, service providers would not have been allowed help administrators get the e-signature credentials.