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Using electronic signatures in the digital age | Business News Articles
Chartered Accountant & Business Consultant - Meredith Harington

Using electronic signatures in the digital age

With the busy lives we lead these days and especially during our current lockdown conditions, more and more people are starting to use digital or electronic signatures. Due to the challenges of arranging meetings to sign documents, the convenience and benefits of being able to sign documents anywhere in the world, is becoming more prevalent.

A digital or electronic signature is defined as data attached to, incorporated in, or logically associated with other data and which is intended by the user to serve as a signature.

Signatures are not always required on documents but it is always wise to request one. Some documents are required by law to be signed, for example ante-nuptial contracts, suretyships and property agreements. It is therefore important to obtain professional advice on whether a document can be signed digitally or not. The ECTA (Electronic Communications and Transactions Act) states that digital documents are valid but that there are exceptions where an original signed document is required, for example a will.

The ECTA states that a digital document must be in the form of a data message, and must be accessible in a manner usable for subsequent reference. The ECTA also provides that if the parties to an electronic transactions don’t specifically require an electronic signature, it can be evidenced by other means from which such person’s intent or other statement can be inferred. Where a signature is required but the parties involved have not agreed on the type of electronic signature, the ECTA recognises that the requirement has been met if a method is used to identify the person and to indicate the person’s approval of the information communicated and having regard to all the relevant circumstances at the time the method was used, the method was as reliable as was appropriate for the purposes for which the information was communicated. Where the signature of a person if required by law, an advanced electronic signature must be used and is regarded as being a valid electronic signature, unless the contrary is proved.

If your company is using electronic signatures, it is important to use a reputable external service provider for secure, authenticated and verifiable digitally signed documents. Depending on the volume, there may be no need for additional devices to use electronic signatures as there are many products available that can be used on most devices. The benefits of electronic signatures have increased during lockdown as they minimise any contact, with documents being signed and scanned remotely. They also overcome many geographic boundaries, enabling signatures from anywhere in the world and at any time. This can also reduce the time to obtain signed documents as you don’t have to wait days or sometimes even weeks to meet with all the parties concerned. As not everyone who is party to the document needs to sign the same document, it is often more legible as it will not be scanned numerous times, becoming more faded with each scan. As many companies are trying to become more socially responsible and support a paperless environment, electronically signed documents can easily be stored in electronic folders and so reduce paper pollution. This is also an important security feature as digitally signed documents are less likely to go missing or be destroyed.

In conclusion, digital signatures often simplify processes and can save many hours in time and costs and are therefore highly recommended. If unsure whether your document requires a signature or not, it would be prudent to consult with your lawyer as this will minimise any risk.

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