A Basic Guide to E-Signatures

Topics: e-signature, electronic signature

Written by Lindsey Paulk

In today’s digitally dominated business world, the development of electronic signatures has changed the way that agreements and transactions are finalized. Electronic signatures give people the ability to sign documents on digital devices at any time, in any place. Electronic signatures are highly efficient and provide business and industry leaders yet another technological advancement to leverage for the purpose of increasing productivity and reducing turnaround times.

Signing a document with an electronic signature is incredibly easy – but how secure is it? And where does the law come into play? We discuss these topics and more below.

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What is an e-signature?

Similar to a physical signature, an e-signature is method to sign a document. An e-signature is an alternative solution to signing that allows you to click or write-in your unique signature on an electronic contract, legal agreement, or other document.

Where does the law come into play with e-signatures?

Does simply writing-in your electronic signature on an agreement verify the agreement’s legal status?

Today, e-signatures hold legal ground in the United States and an overwhelming majority of countries worldwide. E-signatures do in fact hold the same legal impact as a written, traditional signature. However, there are specific items that dictate the legal status of an e-signature:

  1. The signing parties

The signing party must have a verifiable identity. There are several choices available to verify identity, such as email, SMS text, and electronic identification. It is important to note however that the higher the control in identity verification has a direct associate with the level of security offered by the verification method.

All contract actions are digitally recorded and saved. While no single party identification method is absolutely foolproof, an electronic alternative is far safer than previous methods!

  1. Intent of signature and document content

The intent of the party and the actual contents of the legal agreement, contract, or document at hand play a crucial role into the legal implications of the electronic signature. Parties must always be fully aware of what they are signing by demonstrating their intent to sign and acknowledging they are willing to have a legal commitment to the agreement at hand.

In terms of the content of the document, the portion of the contract outlining what the signing party has agreed to in the signed copy of the document is very important. In this way if a contract is altered prior to signature, any new changes to the document’s contents will therefore become the new offer. In the case of multiple signatories/parties, a contract is only considered signed when all parties have agreed and have signed.

  1. Integrity of the document

Is tampering a contributing factor to the document post-signature? Document integrity is the last piece of the puzzle when assigning legal standing to a document signed via electronic signature. Once all required signatories have provided their electronic signature, the document must be kept from tampering at all costs to ensure its integrity.

Through PKI, documents receive a “hash” and are signed with encrypted keys. A hash is similar to a unique fingerprint that a document receives to differentiate itself from others and to protect its integrity. In this manner, when documents are edited, a new hash value will develop, alerting that a change has taken place within the document.

How do you ensure an e-signature is legally bound?

For an electronic signature to be considered legally binding, you must be able to verify who provided the signature, their identity, and the integrity of the document following signature.

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Various laws that regulate e-signatures:

There are various laws that govern the legal implications of these signature types worldwide. In the United States, the US Congress legalized electronic signatures with the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) in the year 2000. Several countries followed suit and began to legally adopt a form of electronic signature.

The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN Act), the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), and the electronic Identification Authentication and trust services regulation (eIDAS) are several examples of legislation in the United States and the European Union that demonstrate how electronic signatures have become well-trusted worldwide.

How to authenticate an e-signature:

When applying an electronic signature to a document, it is critical that the signature can be verified. While electronic signature solutions are far more secure, it’s still necessary to mitigate risk and stay aware of potential tampering as much as possible. If a document is tampered with after it has been signed, then what good is the document? There are several negative implications that follow when e-signatures are unable to be independently verified.

So – how do you verify an e-signature?

While there are several different methods available, a simple one we’ll discuss is done by using Adobe Reader.

Open the document that contains your electronic signature in Adobe Reader.

Within the platform, the software will provide you with a message at the top pertaining to the signature’s validity.

The message will be one of the three below, with corresponding green or red check or “x” icons:

  1. The document is not signed, yet the signatories are identified by your eSignature integration
  2. The signatures and the signing parties are verifiable, thus authenticating and verifying the document – however, verifying the signature will be troublesome without additional help from your selected eSignature integration
  3. The last option is one that is highly secure and verifies that the signature is substantiated and qualified.

The Main Advantages of E-Signatures

Time-efficiency

Need to negotiate a contract with a party that is across the globe? Imagine if negotiations took place only using physical copies of documents – printing, scanning, shipping, signing, etc. This entire process would take weeks or even months to complete in its entirety. Back-and-forth communication with physical documents is a thing of the past, and e-signatures help with centralizing and streamlining the signing step and closing deals.

Cost-efficiency

Ever heard the phrase “time is money”? Well in business, this certainly is true. E-signatures allow you to save an exorbitant amount of time and reap the financial benefits of having more time on your hands. In addition to saving time, you also save resources by transitioning to a digital signature alternative. Now, you can manage document signing in a completely paperless fashion.

Sign on any device globally

Whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, or computer, you can sign any document at any time in any location. All you need is your device, the electronic document, and the ability to provide your unique e-signature.

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Conclusion

Reap all the benefits that e-signatures offer your business. Here at Dock 365, our Sertifi eSignature integration can help your business accelerate the speed of contracts, improve the security of signatures, boost cost-efficiency, increase accuracy, enhance customer satisfaction, and maximize upon approvals. We strongly suggest utilizing an electronic signature solution for your contract management system so you can simplify the signature process and make signing easy for your clients and vendors.

Dock 365 is an expert in Office 365 and SharePoint-based contract management solutions that will help your company in all of your contract management needs. Take your contract management process to the next level.

Ready to get started today? Reach out to us to learn more about our  Dock 365 Contract Management System.

If you would like more information, we welcome you to schedule a free demo with us today.

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