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With the rise of asynchronous communication, more organizations now recognize electronic signatures as a formal means of authorizing documents. E-signatures are more convenient than their traditional counterparts, allowing you to approve agreements on the go; without being in the same environment as the other parties. 

If you’re still not sold on the idea of using e-signatures for agreements, then you should read this article to the end. Here, we’d discuss different types of e-signatures you can use for your business, and how to collect digital signatures with Formplus. 

What is an Electronic Signature?

An electronic signature or e-signature is an electronic sign or symbol that serves as a formal authorization for agreement, contracts, and approvals. Typically, electronic signatures are equivalent to an individual's physical signature and can be termed "legally binding" on the person(s) in question. 

With the increased popularity of remote work and virtual transactions, more people now adopt electronic signatures as a means of identity accreditation and contract-binding. This means appending your electronic signature on a document bears the same weight as signing a document physically. 

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Types of Electronic Signatures 

Based on the degree of complexity and security, we can identify three types of electronic signatures, namely: 

  1. Simple or Basic Electronic Signatures
  2. Advanced Electronic Signature or Digital Signature 
  3. Qualified advanced electronic or digital signature (QES)

1. Simple or Basic Electronic Signature 

This is the most common type of electronic signature and it involves attaching a generated signature image or scanned signature to a document for formal authorization. For example, you receive a document requiring your signature. So, you quickly go into your photos or images, choose a picture of your signature and add it to the document. Voila! The document is authorized. 

The problem here is there's little or no way to make sure the appended signature matches the physical signature of the recipient. Also, it is extremely easy for the person who signed the document to feign ignorance of the entire process. 

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2. Advanced Electronic Signature

Unlike the simple electronic signature, advanced electronic signatures require verification or authentication before they can be recognized as the legal authorization of the person who signed the document. If you're using an advanced electronic signature, you'd need to use a verification app on your smartphone to authenticate your signature on any documents before it can be deemed legal.

Characteristics of Advanced Electronic Signatures 
  • It is uniquely linked to the signatory
  • It is capable of identifying the signatory 
  • It is under the sole control of the signatory
  • It is linked to the data signed in such a way that any changes invalidate the signature. 
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3. Qualified Advanced Electronic Signature

QES or Qualified Advances Electronic Signature adds a third layer of verification to the signature authentication process. After using a mobile application to verify your signature, you'd go ahead to secure the electronic validation of the signature by a third-party Trust Service Provider (TSP). This means that the third party formally validates the signature on the document and confirms that everything is in place. 

Are Electronic Signatures Legally-binding?

The specific laws on electronic signatures differ from one country to another, so you have to research to discover how it works in your location. However, in the United States and thirty European countries, electronic signatures are legally binding and have the same effect as physically appending your signature on a form. 

What are the Requirements For Making Electronic Signatures Valid? 

In countries where electronic signatures are legally binding, it is expected that the signature passes three tests: 

  1. The Identity Test means that the signatory must have a verifiable identity in the country. Countries deploy several identity verification methods, including emails, text messages, and ID cards. 
  2. The Intent Test deals with the purpose of the transaction. In other words, what is the contract content, and what does it mean for all the parties involved? 
  3. The Integrity Test means that the document must not be modified, altered, or tampered with after all the parties have appended their signatures. If any of these happen, then the document loses its authorization. 

What Legislations and Regulations Define the Legality of an Electronic Signature (or Digital Signature)?

The Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation of the European Union (eIDAS) is the comprehensive regulation for electronic signatures in Europe. If you live in the United States, the legality of all electronic signatures is subject to the ESIGN Act on a federal level. There's also the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. 

Let's look at an overview of how these regulations apply to you. 

The Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation of the European Union (eIDAS)

The eIDAS Regulation is Regulation (EU) 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market. eIDAS covers a range of services pertaining to the verification of electronic documents and e-signatures in Europe. 

Specifically, eIDAS ensures that legally binding digital signatures authorize all electronic business transactions within the EU. It does this by spelling out the standards for e-signature recognition, especially for cross-border transactions. 

The ESIGN Act and UETA 

Signed into law in 2000, the ESIGN act covers the validity and enforceability of electronic signatures in commercial transactions. Typically, this law works with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) introduced in 1999. 

The UETA provides that: 

  • A record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form. 
  • A contract may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because an electronic record was used in its formation
  • If a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law and
  • If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies that law.

According to both laws, an electronic signature must meet the following requirements before it is deemed valid: 

  • Intent to sign from all the parties involved
  • Consent to do business electronically
  • The records must capture that such transaction occurred electronically and;
  • All records of the transaction must be available for future reference

You can learn more about the ESIGN Act and UETA here

Are Electronic Signatures Valid on all Documents?

Despite the wide acceptance of electronic and digital signatures, they do not suffice for all types of documents. The ESIGN act or other relevant regulation in your country would clearly spell out exempt documents, so you can have them at the back of your mind during transactions. 

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In the United States, the following documents require physical signatures. 

  1. Wills
  2. Leases
  3. Adoption papers
  4. Court orders
  5. Divorce papers
  6. Notices of termination and repossession
  7. Notices of foreclosure and eviction
  8. Product recall notices 

In South Africa, The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 exempts the following documents from any type of electronic signatures: 

  1. An agreement authorizing the sale of a property;
  2. Long-term leases;
  3. The execution of a bill of exchange

Can Electronic Signatures Be Copied or Forged? 

A simple electronic signature can be forged or copied easily because it does not require any additional verification before it's termed valid. However, it is nearly impossible to forge an advanced electronic signature or a qualified advanced electronic signature. These signatures have layers of security and authentication built into them, which makes it extremely difficult for anyone to falsify them. 

What Kind of Companies Would Need Electronic Signatures? 

With the increased digitization of every global industry, it's hard to see a company that doesn't use electronic signatures to authorize formal transactions. As long as you send and receive documents via the internet, you'd require electronic signatures one way or the other. 

In e-commerce, for instance, electronic signatures are used to authorize online transactions and contracts between businesses and their clients. For example, in your e-commerce order forms, you can ask customers to append their e-signature on the form to validate their orders. 

If you work in advertising, you can use your e-signature to endorse contracts between your agency and clients without being in the same physical environment. Other industries that require electronic signatures include: 

  1. Law: Electronic signatures can help law firms and legal departments within organizations to speed up their in-house communication and correspondences. 
  2. Insurance: Using e-signature solutions, insurance industry companies can easily verify payout claims and hold their customers accountable for any breach of contract. 
  3. Healthcare: Electronic signatures can speed up obtaining authorization from a third party before the patient undergoes a particular medical procedure. 
  4. Education: School authorities can send out authorization forms with e-signature fields to parents and guardians of the students. By appending their electronic signatures on the form, the parents formally authorize their wards to participate in specific activities like a field trip and camping.  

How to Create and Embed Electronic Signature Forms with Formplus

Formplus has more than thirty basic and advanced fields that you can add to your survey easily—one of them is the e-signature field. Here's how you can collect electronic signatures from respondents right in your form! 

Step 1: Log into your Formplus account. If you don't have a Formplus account, you can sign up for a free one here. 

Step 2: On your dashboard, choose the "create new form.” This takes you to the Formplus builder. 


Step 3: On the left side of the builder, you'd see different fields, including text fields, rating fields, and numerical fields. Click on "advanced inputs" and select "signature.” You can also drag and drop this field into your form. 

Step 4: Complete the form setup to get your survey or questionnaire ready for use. 

There you have it! Now, respondents can easily append their signatures to your forms to validate transactions. All received signatures are stored as image files in the Formplus servers or your preferred cloud storage system. 

Digital Signature vs. Electronic Signature: What Are the Differences? 

  • Definition

An electronic signature is a mark or symbol that shows a person agrees to a contract or the content of a document. On the other hand, a digital signature is an electronic signature captured through an eSignature software using special encryption. It uses an audit trail and encrypted digital certificate to verify both the document and the signees to a contract. 

  • Security

E-signatures do not have additional layers of encryption and verification, unlike digital signatures. Typically, digital signature validation is performed by trusted certificate authorities or trust service providers, so it is usually authorized. 

  • Representation

An electronic signature can be a symbol, sign, or image that shows a person consents to the terms of a contract, document, or agreement. On the other hand, a digital signature can be an encrypted electronic fingerprint that verifies a person's identity. 

  • Use Cases 

Specifically, digital signatures secure the integrity of your data, so they are used for authorizing more sensitive documentation and online interactions. On the flip side, electronic signatures are used mainly in simple contracts and agreements, such as validating business orders and client policy terms and agreements. 

Benefits of Using E-signatures 

  1. Electronic signatures speed up contractual agreements between parties. Instead of waiting for an individual to sign a document physically, you can simply collect their e-signature on the contract and be good to go. 
  2. Electronic signatures are convenient and help you to save time. All the parties involved in a transaction can electronically sign the document from any part of the world. 
  3. Electronic signatures are prone to lesser security breaches compared to when you sign a document with ink. Thanks to digital encryption and audit trails, it’s nearly impossible to forge an Advanced Electronic Signature or Qualified Advanced Electronic Signature.
  4. Electronic signatures are captured with the click of a button, which improves efficiency on both ends of the paperwork. 
  5. E-signatures help organizations cut down the cost of paperwork, thus limiting paper waste and saving more money. 

Conclusion 

E-signatures can accelerate your team’s productivity, significantly; helping you to close deals on time. Wondering how to get started with digital signatures? Try out the e-signature field on Formplus today!


Collect E-signatures with Formplus Today





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