The Oxford dictionary defines a signature as “A person’s name written in a distinctive way as a form of identification in authorizing a cheque or document or concluding a letter.”
Paper-based documents in the past required what is now termed as a “wet” signature, or a hand -written name. More formal documents or contracts/agreements required witnesses to the signature, and an initial on each page, for both the signatory and the witnesses.
This process can be cumbersome, and time consuming. As a result, contracts or agreements often went unsigned, and even signed agreements ran the risk of being challenged in Court. Was the signatory authorised to sign? Is it the original documentation? Does the signature match the identity of the person signing? And documents that have been tampered with, are some examples.
Digital signatures are the most secure and tamper-proof way of signing documents. In most countries these are permitted through legislation, defining what constitutes a digital signature.
There Are Typically Four Forms of Electronic Signature
- A click wrap or text box where a user ticks somewhere in an electronic form that they accept the terms and conditions.
- An electronic signature, an example would be a digital image of a person’s handwritten signature.
- A digital signature, which is a level higher in security than an electronic signature, that ensures the authentication, date and time stamped, and tamper proofed documentation.
- An advanced digital signature, which is authenticated and certified by a legislated body, and required in a few very specific type of agreements.
Digital signatures require software for their generation, and can look quite different from a traditional signature, in some cases for familiarity they can include a record of the electronic signature. Examples are provided below.
The concept of a digital signature goes back as far as 1976, although later refined standards emerged in 1984. Now millions of documents are signed globally using digital signatures, as the concepts become widely adopted.
There are Four Major Benefits of Digital Signatures:
- Efficiency: documents can be signed in an instant from anywhere in the World where there is an internet connection. All pages can be automatically initialled, and there is no need for witnesses. It’s customer friendly, allows for contracts to be signed sooner, booking revenue sooner.
- Authentication: the owner of the digital key is bound to a specific user, no need for a handwriting expert anymore.
- Integrity: the document and the signatory are linked, so that there can be no changes to the document post signature.
- Non-repudiation: an entity that signed digitally cannot deny that they have signed.
It’s not only the financial benefits that accrue, the case for digital signatures is made from a governance and risk perspective as well. If combined with a contract management application, the entire process is simplified and automated from origination through to signing, storing, audit trails and management.
Digital Signatures for Internal Use
There are many processes that require signoff in the day to day operation of a business, from HR forms and contracts, to purchase orders, invoices, requisitions, Board papers, policies and procedures, the list seems endless. RealSignatures allows these documents to be signed electronically, no more need to print them out and have someone physically sign it and worry about where the documents should now be stored.
Digital Signatures for E-Forms
Electronic forms coupled with digital signatures operates in a similar way, except the data that resides in the forms can be captured electronically and stored in a database, along with the physically signed agreement. Ideal for customer or supplier onboarding processes, and extremely useful where manual data capture was the previous process.
Digital Signatures for Third Party Contracts
Integrating into a contract authoring and management application automates the entire contracting process, from drafting, signing, storing and managing the life cycle. Integrated or not, RealSignatures can stand alone and be utilised simply sign whatever contracts or documents the organisation creates or receives.
Learn more about e-signatures by downloading our latest ebook series here:
Real Signatures: A Use Case for E-Signatures
Signing paper-based contracts manually exposes your organisation to several risks. These risks range from not being able to identify the signatory to documents staying unsigned and lost or damaged pages. Using digital signatures, your organisation can go a long way towards mitigating these risks, while simultaneously making the signing process easier, quicker and more robust.
Digital Signatures: What and How?
What is a digital signature and how would e-signatures work in practice? And what the legal situation in South Africa? We answer all these questions in this e-book series.