8 reasons to abandon paper signatures

By Daniel O'Leary posted 04-26-2010 13:33

  

 

Since I work with electronic forms daily, one of the main questions that is asked by our customers is "what about the physical paper signature?". Since going paperless means not making paper, here are 8 reasons why you should abandon paper signatures forever. 

1.       The law is on your side

Digital signatures are as legally binding as a physical, hand-written signature in every circumstance where a signature is required. The E-SIGN law and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act are supported by the federal government and have been adopted by 47 states. It clearly states “(c) If a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law” with the purpose “to facilitate and promote commerce and governmental transactions by validating and authorizing the use of electronic records and electronic signatures." Further refinements by the EU, PIPEDA and the FDA recommend making sure the signature is unique to the signer, and that the signer’s identity is linked to the document. When combined with good governance and unalterable file formats, you can easily met the guidelines for legality. 
 
2.       Mistaken expectation of vulnerability
Basic education about the legality of electronic signatures is severely lacking in the marketplace. Organizations remain inappropriately afraid of legal challenges to an electronic signature, however, the challenges to electronic signatures “valid and legal” have never been sole cause for overruling a contract or signed document. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_signature) Ultimately, the legality of an electronic signature and electronic document lies in the underlying business process. 
 
3.       Inherent problems with paper signatures
A central question of paper and electronic signatures involves how to deal with forgery and spoofing. If you currently rely on paper signatures, how do you know a document was forged? Do you use notarized documents with raised seals? Do you have documents sent out for forensic handwriting analysis? How can you prove that it was me that signed a document, and not my assistant, or someone forging it using a scanner or an image editing program?
 
With an electronic signature, we can exercise much greater control over access to a document by using things like unique hyperlinks, usernames and passwords, and even biometrics to identify a person. Depending on your industry, additional levels of security can be applied using a digital signature, such as cryptography and the use of digital certificates for document verification.
 
4.       You have already abandoned paper signatures
These days, you can apply for social security, file your taxes, and purchase a new car without ever creating a paper signature, or even printing paper. Every time you buy something from eBay, download a song from iTunes, or install a program on your computer, you are entering into a legal agreement without physically signing anything.

Imagine for a moment that after you win a coveted eBay auction, you had to download, print, sign, and send back a form or contract agreeing to terms of the auction … would you continue to do business with that company or seller? Probably not. Digital signatures apply the same ease of use to the overarching business world. 
 
5.       There’s an app for that!
For less than a blended ice-coffee, you can start signing documents electronically on your iPhone or iPod touch. The Zosh application ($2.99) is a perfect example of how the marketplace is creating tools to solve this problem. All you have to do is sign using the touch screen, and e-mail the completed document. Before applications like this, you had to purchase expensive signature pads that often ran into the hundreds of dollars. 
 
6.       The cost of processing paper forms
In a typical document’s lifecycle, 5-10 minutes will be spent in its manual routing, the verification of information and entering data into an content management system. Multiply that by the number of documents, per person, per day, and you should arrive at an reasonable expectation of lost productivity in your workday as a result of managing paper.
 
Forget for a moment just the cost to store paper in a file cabinet and consider that paper has to be routed, scanned and have its data re-entered. Documents also get lost and versioning becomes a nightmare. As organizations focus more on their environmental impact and look at going paperless, the creation of paper for signatures must be addressed. Going paperless doesn’t mean scanning, it means not making paper in the first place. 
 
7.       To improve workflow
These days, almost every document is born digital; starting as a word document, e-mail, spreadsheet, PDF, or Web page. When you create paper, chances are that at the end of the process, the document will be scanned for archiving. If you are starting with an electronic file, and ending with an electronic file, why create paper in the middle just to add a signature? When you combine electronic signatures with electronic forms, you can create a truly paperless workflow.
 
8.       Impact and Likelihood of forgery, and what vendors aren’t telling you
Are you getting signatures on major financial documents with large sums of money involved? Or, are you dealing with an internal process that has always involved having a signature simply because “that is the way we have always done it?” Are there documents that are being processed as paper simply to get a signature when there is only a remote likelihood that someone would ever forge such a document?

The dirty little secret in the industry is that there is big money in manufacturing fear and telling you how much you need a vendor’s proprietary widget, storage technology or secured warehouse to keep your paper. Vendors on both sides—paper and electronic—are committed to a fear-based sales pitch. I encourage you to do your own research, and combine it with good governance to abandon paper signatures forever.
 
For a demo on how we use electronic forms to eliminate the need for paper, please visit www.lincware.com 


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