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Picture this: there’s an important deal about to be finalized, and all that’s left to do is collect signatures. It’s been a slog pushing this one to the finish line and you’re eager to wrap it up.

But, as the days drag on, your client still hasn’t booked a meeting time to sign the paper documents. Their busy schedule is wreaking havoc on your workflow. Sound familiar? It might be time for you to consider the benefits of electronic signatures.

Digital transformation has thrust electronic signatures—or e-signatures—from the fringes of business transactions and into the mainstream. Years ago, in order to sign important paperwork, like listing agreements for home sales or healthcare documentation, you’d need to book an in-person meeting and bring a pen. Today, the vast majority of documentation can be completed electronically.

In many ways, we have the pandemic to thank for this since lockdown measures made remote work the norm and digital signatures a public health necessity. Will we ever go back to primarily paper documentation? It’s unlikely.

Electronic signatures are fast, secure, and easy. Curious to learn more? Let’s take a look.

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What is an electronic signature?

Electronic signatures allow you to sign a document online without having to physically be present to give your “wet signature” (handwritten signature, ink-on-paper). Electronic documents can be signed remotely from a computer or mobile device and then sent securely and directly to other stakeholders to sign or review.

Generally speaking, an electronic signature is used for the exact same purpose as a wet signature: to act as proof that the signatory party has seen and agrees with the terms of the document.

It’s a paperless option that can improve turnaround times and enhance workflow efficiency by cutting down on the need for in-person meetings. Saves paper too!

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electronic signature benefits

There are many advantages of electronic signatures as compared to handwritten signatures. Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the 6 biggest benefits:

1. Eco-Friendly
Since electronic signatures are paperless, they’re an excellent way for climate-conscious businesses to “walk the talk”. They let your customers know that your commitment to sustainability extends beyond your brand literature and into how you design your workflow.

2. Cost-Effective
Signing documents electronically represents instant cost savings as it cuts back on your team’s billable hours. Rather than having to book an in-person meeting, electronic signatures can be gathered remotely, reducing the costs associated with tasks like postage, printing, and filing storage.

3. Reduction of Human Error
When preparing an electronic document, you can pre-fill many parts of the form, reducing the risk of human error when signing. Further, digital authentication methods and enhanced security features ensure that you meet all regulatory compliance requirements. Collecting signatures electronically also creates an audit trail that can be easily examined in the event of a concern.

4. Workflow Automation
Within an electronic document, approvals are automated. This means that the signing process is inherently streamlined according to your desired workflow. 

All signers are able to see who has signed, and to instantly receive signed copies of important documents once they’ve been completed by all relevant parties. Most electronic signature solutions will also store signed documents for archiving purposes, making them easy to locate later on.

5. Improved UX
Electronic signatures enhance customer experience by making documents easier and faster to sign. If you’re preparing paperwork for a busy executive who travels often, no problem! They can sign it from the airport as they board their flight.

6. Flexibility
Electronic signatures don’t require a room full of filing cabinets to house the paperwork. They can be sent to anyone, from anywhere, at any time, and stored electronically for future reference. 

How do electronic signatures work?

Electronic signatures assist in contract management by authenticating, tracking, and storing signer information. They act just like a handwritten signature and are unique to each signatory party. Signers can choose to use a stylus to create their electronic signature or adopt a typed signature. Typically at the outset of the document, the signer would choose which option they prefer and adopt it for the remainder of the document.

For team members who are new to electronic signatures it may be helpful to offer onboarding training. This way, they can walk your clients through the process and answer any questions that come up.

Electronic signatures are legal and recognized by many regulatory compliance guidelines, including the electronic Identification, Authentication, and trust Services (eIDAS) regulation in the EU, and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) in the United States.

There are still a few areas where handwritten signatures are generally required. These include:

  • Documentation for transporting hazardous materials
  • Wills and trusts
  • Recall notices pertaining to public health safety
  • Notices of termination for health or life insurance
  • Foreclosure, eviction, and default notices for an individual’s primary residence
  • Court orders and official documents
  • Documentation regarding divorce, adoption, and family law.

Regulations on signatures change based on geographic location, and, sometimes, even within a country the requirements will be different depending on the state or province within which you’re operating. 

It’s best to check that your specific circumstance falls within the regulatory compliance guidelines before choosing to adopt an electronic signature process.

Electronic signature software

To complete documentation with secure electronic signatures, you’ll need to choose a software solution. There’s an extensive list of service providers available, and each have their own unique benefits. 

In general, I’d advise that you look for e-signature software that contains some of these key features:

Capturing of e-signatures: The software must enable users to provide their signature and save it on the document.

Security: Make sure that the software has authentication and identity proofing functionality, and data encryption.

Editing and commenting features: The software should provide you with the ability to add helpful comments (like explanations or instructions) and to edit the document as needed.

Templates: For ease of use, look for software solutions that provide templates you can build on.

Automated workflow: Make sure your software allows you to create automation for things like confirmations and approvals.

Storage: Document archiving saves time and space that would be spent filing paper documents.

Audit trails: Choose a solution that allows you to look back in the event of a concern.

Mobile functionality: To reach the largest number of customers, ensure that your solution supports both desktop and mobile.

Branding customization: Including your logo and brand colors in your paperwork adds a professional touch.

When choosing a solution, it’s best to look for a platform that offers a free trial. This way you can test the functionality to ensure that it works for your specific business needs, and that it integrates with some of the existing platforms your team currently uses.

Learn more about document management

Choosing the right e-signature software to suit your business needs takes time and consideration. To learn more about what’s available, check out our article, “10 Best Electronic Signature Software for Digital Sign-Off”.

If you’re looking for ways to enhance the efficiency and security of your document management processes, subscribe to our newsletter. When our experts publish new articles and release new podcast episodes, you’ll be the first to know. 

By Tim Reitsma

Tim is the co-founder and General Manager of People Managing People, an online publication focused on building a better world of work. He is experienced with people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.