By Polly Russel-Stower, Group General Counsel, Ultimate Finance

 

With COVID-19 forcing lockdown at this year, many businesses have been forced to take a long look at how they do business with their customers and suppliers. E-sign has been a hot topic for some time but this year has seen a rise in the number of adopters who have moved forward with bringing it into their business process.

At Ultimate Finance, we have recently rolled out e-sign for use with our various products and its fair to say it has had it challenges. But the benefits far outweighed any of the downsides. Here are some hints and tips if you are thinking about bringing e-sign into your business:

A starting checklist

Who will use e-sign – Think about who will use if from a customer experience perspective. The obvious answer is your own customers, but could you adopt it more widely? For example, with third party suppliers, and even you own employees. If you have processes where you still need people to print, sign, and scan, could e-sign be a solution?

Who will be responsible for administrating the system on the business side? Someone in the business will need to be responsible for uploading the templates you use. You also need to think about how you will save signed documents to customer files so they can be easily located in the future. If you are dealing with a high volume of signed documents, then from an audit perspective, you may want to carry out some “dip sampling” to check that signatures have ended up where they should be and not accidentally half way up a page!

What type of documents – if you want to have simple agreements and contracts signed through the platform then the process is quite straightforward although you should be aware that different providers offer different types of signatures which ultimately provide different levels of security which are required by eIDAS, which is the key piece of legislation relating to electronic signatures. In broad terms the levels are –

  1. Basic – This has the lowest form of security and is simply a signature attached to the document
  2. Advanced – eIDAS requires the signature to be uniquely and clearly linked to its signer and enable the signer to be formally identified
  3. Qualified – This has the highest level security requirements which are set out in eIDAS and there are very clear requirements for how the identity of the signer is verified and the signature is protected.

The other thing to think about is whether you have any documents that will require a witness. The requirement for a witness can arise in a couple of instances. For example; although deeds are not commonplace in the commercial world, they do feature in sectors such as financial services; If you deal with companies, then depending on the circumstances of the signature, the Companies Act 2006 can require directors signatures to be witnessed. It is worth raising this with any e-sign provider you are talking to so they can explain how they deal with the witnessing process.

Volume – it will be handy to have a sense of the rough number of documents you will want to put through the documents and how many people you may want to give access to the platform to. E-sign providers all price differently and structures can vary from paying for licenses for those employees who will send out the documents to paying fees based on the volume of documents you want to send.

Once you are ready to start talking to e-sign providers, here are some things to cover when getting demos of the platform:

  1. Integration

How easy is it for the platform to integrate with other IT systems? If you create documents out of a certain software platform such as a CRM system, will the e-sign provider “speak” and integrate with your platform?  Some software platforms will only deal with a specific e-sign provider so its worth checking whether there are restrictions to be aware of.

  1. What is the customer experience like?

Many of the platforms allow you to design and tailor the messages your customers get from the platform – whether that be the email that asks them to sign, to update emails where there are multiple signers, to the final email that gives them a copy of the fully signed document. Not only can you customise these emails with your branding, but you can also tailor the messaging.

  1. What compliance and security measures does the platform use?

Firstly, what legislation does the e-sign platform comply with – as a starting point make sure that it complies with eIDAS. Whilst e-sign means ease and convenience it also means that dealing with the signature of documents at arm’s length, can create opportunities for fraudulent individuals to take advantage of businesses. Ask what anti tamper measures does the platform have? Does it provide a detailed audit log setting out all the steps that have been taken with a customer – you would be amazed how detailed these can be and they are important when proving the validity of e-signatures. Can you add enhanced security measures such as signers being sent a pin to their mobiles to help verify their identity?

  1. GDPR

If your business deals with individuals it is likely that you may get the odd Data Subject Access Request or rights requests such as the right to be forgotten and for data to be deleted. Make sure that you understand what tools the e-sign platform can offer to help you deal with such requests.

Other things to consider:

It is amazing how many templates and versions of documents you may have in your business that may have old branding, wrong addresses, wonky formatting and are just plain out of date for your business requirements. E-sign can present a great opportunity to carry out a document rationalisation exercise – you never know you may end up getting rid of some you don’t even use anymore!