No matter how much the world changes, some processes stay constant. We may file taxes online, complete financial paperwork digitally and email or text most communications, but one stamp of identity that is still required when closing any major deal is the personal signature. The individualized series of loops and squiggles that encompass our identities has been the mainstay of a done deal since the start of modern civilization. People need to imprint their mark to make a transaction official, but even that ancient process is now going completely digital.
Paper and ink signatures are losing power for several reasons. They’re inherently insecure and can be easily forged, duplicated, lost, or stolen — all without anyone realizing for days or weeks. The cost and process of printing, faxing, scanning, overnighting and storing paperwork is also high and cumbersome.
Electronic signatures retain the value of signing without the many security and time compromises of paper. Digital representations of physical, handwritten signatures can be signed directly onto mobile or tablet devices with a finger or special pen, making them easy for anyone to do. With a few clicks, documents can be sent anywhere in the world in minutes instead of days. Documents are easily accessed through cloud computing, and status checks to see who has signed are a snap. Anything can be downloaded and printed, anywhere, from any device, and there is no lost labor or waste in rekeying data from the same document. Digitally signed documents are also legally binding with a complete audit trail, a recent development that has broken barriers, making the technology more mainstream.
Though digital signatures have the potential to expedite and further secure everyday business processes, many companies are still struggling to automate the process. Lots of businesses invest significant resources in sales and marketing automation to accelerate the acquisition of new customers and revenue only to let the digital signing process remain manual and sluggish.
E-signing, or the use of digital signatures, has lagged behind for several reasons. First, there were legal issues to overcome when accepting digital signatures on files and contracts. Legal departments and the IRS were hesitant to accept anything that wasn’t classic pen and ink. However, around 2000 the U.S. and Europe each adopted legislation to declare electronic signature and document validity, breaking a major boundary for e-signing. One particular piece of legislation is the U.S. Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which made electronic records and signatures as legal as paper and manually written signatures. Most states followed suit and accepted digital as official.
Another barrier was broken as more companies adopted secure cloud usage. Initially, server based systems were complex and lacked certification standards, which limited their appeal for organizations already struggling to maintain disparate systems who faced interoperability issues with partners and customers. However, now that secure cloud computing is commonplace, it’s easier than ever for businesses to sign and transfer soft documents securely.
Mainstream consumers and corporations are also becoming more comfortable with electronic signatures. Many customers even expect electronic signatures to be part of the document process as they become more at ease with computers, tablets and smartphones to digitally manage their lives. Stores now use digital signature pads for credit cards, and people are accustomed to clicking the ever present “I agree” disclosures on smartphone and tablet apps. Accepting and signing on a screen is the new normal.