COVID-19 has without a doubt put a strain on the way firms conduct business, within a very short time frame companies of all sizes have had to radically change the way they operate to adapt to the new circumstances they found themselves in. This has covered everything from enabling people to work from home by giving them laptops, to moving from on-premise to cloud-based case management systems.
For many it has not been easy, whereas others have been better prepared, please excuse the shameless self-promotion to follow, for example, firms that already had modern, feature-rich cloud-based case management systems in place, such as InTouch.
This new way of working has been a challenge but it has also brought about a lot of innovation and much needed change to the conveyancing industry, with more firms embracing digital tools to provide a better service for their clients.
In early 2021 I conducted a LinkedIn poll asking conveyancers what tools had been the most useful to help them operate during the work from home directives. The response was clear, the most useful tool according to my network was without doubt esignatures, also known as electronic signatures. I’ve also seen similar results from other polls in the industry.
Seeing as we launched our own esignature solution for conveyancers, which by the way is free to use by our customers, I’d thought I’d take some time to answer some questions that generally come up.
What are esignatures?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as; “a piece of digital data attached to a document sent electronically that is used to confirm the identity of the sender”
More simply put it is an electronic equivalent to a handwritten signature which is also known as a wet signature.
Are esignatures valid?
The short answer is yes but legislation differs slightly between jurisdictions. Where applicable there is also case law to back the legislation up.
See below for resources;
- UK - Electronic Communications Act 2002 - Also see EU regulation below adopted on July 2016, backed up further by case law e.g. Golden Ocean Group v Salgaocar Mining
- EU - Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 also known as eIDAs
- Australia - Electronic Transactions Act 1999
- Jersey - The Electronic Communications (Jersey) Law 2000 (the "EComms Law")
- Guernsey - Electronic Transactions (Guernsey) Law, 2000
- Isle of Man - The Electronic Transactions Act of 2000
Are esignatures secure?
A good esignature solution should be considered both safer and more trustworthy than wet signatures, especially so if signed remotely.
Some readers might think differently seeing wet signatures as being a safer option. But I have good reasoning for my argument.
- Authentication - the receiver of a signature request should be required to sign in and authenticate themselves to allow them to sign, for example by using their email address and password
- This means that the signee has validated that they are the intended recipient in the simplest manner by having access to the email account
- Further authentication steps can also be introduced, by way of example the InTouch solution offer;
- Requirement to sign in to an account using their username and password (which has previously been setup)
- Two-step authentication - send a one time passcode to their mobile phone which they require to input to confirm their identity
- A wet signature has no way of authenticating the signee unless witnessed by yourself in person
- Integrity - once a signature for a document has been requested, the original document in an esignature process is locked down meaning it cannot be changed, swapped, or tampered with
- This means that the signee is only able to sign the document you intended for them to sign
- Wet signatures open up the risk of the document having been altered before being signed
- Even small alterations can have significant consequences - If using wet signatures do you go through all signed documents line by line when returned?
- Non-repudiation - satisfaction, in a legal sense, about where the electronic signature has come from making them stronger. This is achieved by capturing more information about the person on signing than what a wet signature would.
- For example it could record things such as time and date, IP-adress, device used, if two factor authentication was passed etc. etc.
- For a wet signature there is no additional information backing up the signature
Can Deeds be signed with esignatures?
Signing of deeds often requires witnessing, at least when it comes to land transactions. This adds some more complexity to the process and not all solutions will cater to the requirements set out, for example by HM Land Registry in England and Wales. It is only recently that HMLR has started accepting electronically signed deeds, and I am confident more will happen in this space in the future.
You need to understand the requirements of these organisations to ensure that the deed can be both signed and accepted electronically.
Please also note that not all mortgage lenders accept all forms of esignatures, some still insists on wet signatures.
If you would like a demo of InTouch and how our esignature solution seamlessly can integrate with your conveyancing workflows, to provide excellent customer service, click below.