Sign on the Line—Instantly: What Electronic Signatures Mean for All of Us

by Mark Greenaway

posted on 07-31-2017

I have family in Finland and, on my last visit, I bought a car to make it easier to get around while there. Finland is a pretty digital nation so I was surprised when, as I went to finalize the sale, the seller started thumbing through a hefty pile of papers that included of course, the bill of sale, a necessary evil of any car sale.

Before he could get to signing, I stopped him and told him we probably didn’t need to print out another stack of paper. Instead, we could do it all electronically. I’d already downloaded a bill-of-sale template and, while he was wrapping things up, I popped in all the necessary information about the car, the price, and the transaction. I told him if it was all the same for him, we could just sign on my iPad and settle things right there and then. He seemed a little suspicious at first, but then we each squiggled our signatures on the electronic document. I emailed him a copy and I sent him the money. Easy.

Electronic Signatures: A Faster, More Seamless Route

Although the electronic signature process is becoming more and more common in the UK, it still hasn’t gained the same level of perceived credibility as ink and paper. But, really, why, in this day and age do we rely on physical signatures? Let’s be honest: they’re purely ceremonial. Electronic signatures provide a faster, more seamless route, especially in financial services. And besides that, they’re more secure and easier to authenticate.

Think about basic banking processes—mortgages, personal loans, and credit lines, for example. Now think about how long it often takes to finalize these fairly common transactions. Sure, the application is likely 100 percent online, including the signature piece. But when the time comes to underwrite a deal, finalize it, and transfer funds, suddenly the stakeholders need to be in the office, they need to sign 10 copies of the document, and they need to register a physical copy with the bank. We depend so much on a written signature—but it’s really not necessary.

I say that not just because we have the technology—Adobe Document Cloud and, specifically, Adobe Sign—but because our reliance on physical signatures costs us endless time and resources. Whether you’re the customer or the financial service provider, you want to get the job done as quickly as possible. You’ve got a vested interest in closing on the house, collecting interest on the loan, or securing a much-needed line of credit. But, when everything rests on multiple physical signatures, that process can take weeks if not months to wrap up.

Overcoming the Electronic Signature Misconceptions

To me the only answer here is that there’s still a misconception about electronic signatures. Some people still seem to think they aren’t as airtight or legal. I can’t tell you the number of times senior leadership at a major company pushes back with that kind of logic. Still, organisations are increasingly adopting electronic signatures to give their counterparties and customers a faster, better experience.

Electronic signatures can be easily authenticated via email address, mobile device, IP addresses, and other methods. A physical signature is, literally, a squiggly line on a piece of paper. Electronic signatures can be obtained anytime, anywhere, on any device. Physical signatures often lead to expensive overnight shipping charges or having to schedule time to sit around a conference room table—and, of course, the time, money, and hassle of printing stacks and stacks of signature pages.

In reality, just about everything can be covered off with electronic signatures. In the UK, the number of things you can’t sign electronically can be counted on one hand—think death certificates, for starters. Any other contract, agreement, or certificate can be validated without printing a page or picking up a pen.

What Electronic Signatures Mean for Today’s Businesses

This capability has the potential to be a huge win for businesses everywhere. According to Adobe’s “Document Drain” study, European employees spend close to seven hours per week on office admin—that’s almost one full working day. And a jaw-dropping 96 percent of employees say printing and emailing documents is the most time-consuming of these admin tasks. Integrating electronic signatures could save countless hours, not to mention the hassle of printing, signing, and sending out.

The UK is leading the electronic signature pack, but there’s no reason other companies and countries can’t follow suit—and take things further_._ Electronic signatures are legal and they’re safer, simpler, and more secure than the “real deal.” So, really, why aren’t we all pulling out our iPads like I did in Finland, and locking things down on the spot? Why are we spending so much time, energy, and resources doing something we could—and should—do from the palm of our hands? It’s a question that, I think, is finally worth answering. We have the technology on all sides and we have receptive consumer audiences. The next step is for businesses to run with it—and reap the benefits from day one.


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