Into the expanse: How electronic signatures can evolve

18 May 2022 By Christian Lucarelli
Christian Lucarelli

A lot of effort goes into getting a document digitally signed; the extent of that process is only now being recognised, writes Christian Lucarelli.

There’s a tendency to think of electronic signature (e-sign) in overly narrow terms: as the digitisation of “wet ink” signatures that would ordinarily have been performed with the traditional paper and pen.

That narrow view of e-sign is a by-product of the meteoric rise of technology over the past two years. It simply became essential in contractual and paper-driven sectors like banking where customers could no longer attend in person to sign agreements such as loan paperwork.

All the focus was on being able to capture the all-important signature to execute customer agreements. E-sign technology – combined with legislative and regulatory reform – enabled that to occur.

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With the adoption of e-sign technology over the past two years, organisations are just now starting to realise that no signature exists in a vacuum. There’s always a set of processes that happen before and after the signing event.

There’s more to e-signature than meets the eye

Many interesting possibilities emerge as we investigate all the factors that wrap around a signature, and once we acknowledge that we can always make the signing event better, more streamlined, and more responsive to customer needs.

By taking a broader view of e-sign, it’s clear that e-signature isn’t just about how to sign a document in the most effective way possible. It’s also about how to make sure that everything in the document is correct the first time that it’s sent to the customer for a signature, and what happens to the document after the signature takes place.

The opportunities for improvement are twofold: first, to the way the signature is captured; and second, to all the elements that go around the signing event.

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Consider the execution of a home loan or mortgage: a very common use case for e-sign technology today.

There is a lot of this information and process involved before any signature on the loan documents occurs. The lender wants to understand the customer and their financial position, understand what loan the customer needs, and whether a co-signer is required. Once collected, collated and conditionally or programmatically analysed, the data is passed to the team that prepares the loan documents.

Only at this point in the process is the e-sign technology engaged to manage the process of documents being delivered to the customer, signed or co-signed, and returned.

But the process does not stop there. Once approved, all the information captured in this process needs to be routed to an appropriate repository, such as a system of record. Copies of the agreement may need to be sent to additional signatories or to a mortgage broker, if one was involved, for their own records.

Immediate attention

There’s a trend away from using email to circulate documents and collect signatures to using methods that rely on smartphones – and SMS – instead. Two possibilities exist: in one, the organisation sends the customer a signing link they can open, sign on their phone, and send back.

Alternatively, by coupling several technologies together, a customer is able to print a document at home, sign it, and complete the process by capturing an image of the signed document on their phone, which is then added back into the digital signing process.

Both options represent the next natural evolution of electronic signature capture.

Unlike email delivery, people are programmed to respond to text messages immediately; most of us don’t leave unread messages to pile up on our phones. That immediacy is recognised as beneficial by organisations that need a rapid time-to-signature.

These technologies also open up interesting use cases for e-sign beyond the common scenarios like executing loan or contractual agreements. For example, a doctor performing a telehealth or remote check-up can push an updated medical file to the patient and seek immediate review and sign-off; a public utility that performs a meter reading can immediately have the customer sign off on the reading, even as they are en route to another location; or it could be used to execute the filing of remote affidavits in legal cases.

The wraparound

E-sign adopters should also focus on those parts of the end-to-end process that exist before and after the signature is captured, and various ways these parts are stitched together and managed.

Organisations should map out and document all the stages in their end-to-end process. Once documented, it becomes easier to recognise opportunities for optimisation or automation of particular parts.

For example, it may be desirable to automate the preparation of documents by auto-filling them with information captured via an electronic form or through existing data drawn from internal systems. It may also be advantageous to automate the way the document is routed through the different stages of the process, and for appropriate data to be extracted once the signature is executed and sent to storage or archival systems, or attached to a specific customer file or identity.

E-sign’s evolution

We’re never going back to pen and paper: e-sign technology is here to stay, and it’s only going to become more and more the norm in a larger cross-section of sectors. 

In saying that, e-sign won’t always look like it does now. The space is fast evolving, and the focus has very much shifted to optimising the processes that happen before and after the signature takes place. As a result, the customer experience of electronic signature will change materially — and for the better.

Christian Lucarelli is the vice-president of sales in APAC at Nintex.

Into the expanse: How electronic signatures can evolve
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