Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Signing online: e-signatures explained

From shopping to banking, we’re doing almost everything online, so why not sign important documents this way too? Not only is it more convenient - it cuts out the hassle of printing, signing, scanning and sending back forms – it’s also more environmentally friendly. But how secure are electronic signatures and is there anything you need to be aware of?

What is an e-signature?

Electronic signatures, also known as e-signatures, are a way of signing a document without having to put pen to paper. They are used in place of handwritten signatures on a range of legally-binding documents, from bank accounts to loan applications, mortgages, job offers and tenancy agreements.

There are different types of e-signatures, including ‘click-to-sign’ tick boxes, scanned signatures, and ones where you type in your name, choose a font so it looks more like a ‘real’ signature, then date and submit the document.
How secure are e-signatures?

Naturally, many of us worry e-signatures could be less secure than physical signatures. However, it’s actually the opposite.

When it comes to signing a document, the important thing is to be able to prove who signed it and that it hasn’t been changed since. As such, the technology behind e-signatures has been developed to include levels of authentication that ensure all your details stay safe. These range from trusted timestamps - which don’t permit any additional changes to the document - to ‘digital signature’ technology which verifies your identity then combines it with the data in the document, creating a unique digital fingerprint which can’t be tampered with.

As e-signatures become more and more common, you’re likely to come across company names such as Adobe Sign, DocuSign and Verisign. These are all big players in the e-signature market and employ the highest levels of security.
Are e-signatures legal?

Yes, and they have been since the Electronic Communications Act 2000. They are also subject to the Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS) Regulation, an EU regulation that came into force in July 2016.

Because this is a highly regulated form of document signing, as long as they’ve come from a trusted source – such as a recognised bank or financial institution – you know you’re in safe hands. Just make sure you only sign documents you’re expecting to receive: if you’re in any doubt or think a document might be fraudulent, contact the institution directly to make sure.
Why use e-signatures?

Not only are they a secure way to sign important documents, they are also very convenient. Because they’re online, they can be sent to multiple parties at once and save valuable time, particularly when it comes to things such as joint mortgages or tenancy agreements. The technology behind e-signatures often lets the sender know when you’ve viewed or signed the documents, so they can take action immediately. This means you don’t have to arrange meetings to suit all parties, travel somewhere to add your signature, or wait for the post to arrive.

In addition, they are also far more environmentally friendly. Only a few years ago, a study by YouGov found over 80% of UK companies print out documents just so they can be signed. Going paperless is not just more secure for both individuals and companies, it’s also helping make the world a better place.

Using e-signatures as a method of signing important documents is becoming increasingly popular in all industries, from banking and finance to HR and housing - and for good reason. The technology behind them means consumers can feel confident their details will remain secure; it’s more convenient, saving time and reducing effort, particularly when multiple parties are involved; and - as you won’t need to print reams of paper and can have immediate access to all your documents in the cloud - it’s also far better for the planet.

Anthony Hua

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