Sign on the Digitally Dotted Line

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Chances are, if consumers begin transactions online, they will want to complete them there. E-signature technology truly enables companies to provide a complete electronic process that takes a customer throughout the life cycle of a particular transaction. "Once they start doing an application electronically, they’re likely to stay electronic," says Robert Nilsson, VP of marketing and market development for eLynx.

Engaging customers when they are ready to make a purchase is the ultimate goal of any sales and marketing professional. E-signature technology helps facilitate the process. Interlink Electronics’ e-signature solutions are housed under an eSIGN Anywhere platform, enabling customers to sign in different applications and locations. "We call it eSIGN Anywhere because you capture the customer when they’re ready to act; whether it’s online, in the branch, or with an insurance agent that has visited your home," says Nathalie Benoit, marketing director for Interlink Electronics.

Businesses of all sizes have begun to recognize the value of e-signature technology. Technology providers have worked to offer solutions that match each individual company’s specific needs. For instance, DocuSign offers products designed for small and large customers. DocuSign Web is geared toward small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. DocuSign Professional is an enterprise-level product that automates document processes and places signature areas into documents so people know where to place their e-signatures. DocuSign Enterprise is for larger customers and integrates into customers’ existing software applications.

The Legality Hurdle
Regardless of the guarantees the Electronic Signature Act affords when it comes to the legality of signatures, technology providers still find that they must diminish potential customers’ fears on the subject. Some customers also question the safety and security of e-signatures, when they are perhaps much safer than traditional pen and paper.

"Documents that have been signed with e-signatures have appeared in court, but the problem usually has been along the lines that the person didn’t do what he said he was going to do, not that he is refuting the signature," says Noakes-Fry, who cited a separate case in which employees were applying e-signatures to other peoples’ documents. "That wasn’t a problem of the signatures or the technology, it was a problem of management of that particular institution," she says. "Forgery is going to be forgery. Poor training is going to be poor training. The same people would have initialed the documents with a pen, thinking it was okay."

To help increase customer comfort, EchoSign offers end users the option of using an electronic signature or completing a transaction on paper. According to Lemkin, 95% of EchoSign’s customers rely solely on the e-signature technology; the remaining 5% combine the e-signatures with fax signatures (written signatures that are routed to the sender via fax). Sometimes, customers will use the e-signature technology on some contracts and the written signatures on others, adds Lemkin.

EchoSign’s solution involves sending PDF forms back and forth from sender to recipient. The sender, using a process similar to sending an email, types the recipient’s email address, attaches a document that needs a signature, and selects whether the document requires an e-signature or a fax-generated one. The recipient types his name and initials, and the system applies a signature stamp. Both the recipient and sender receive signed PDFs via email.

The Security Issue
Technology providers have built security-related functions into their products to ensure the safety for their customers. With eLynx’s e-signature solution, uSign, customers receive an email notification (branded by the eLynx client) that informs them that they have a document ready to sign. The email contains a unique URL that directs them to a secure portal. Once there, customers enter a user ID and password. Then, they are asked an average of four "out of wallet" questions (such as, "What is your mother’s maiden name?") before gaining access to the document. Once signed, the document is sent by eLynx back to the customer who initiated the document. "It’s very clean and simple," says Nilsson. "You see the document like you see it in the paper world. It’s the same consumer experience."

xyzmo USA, LLC takes it a step further by digitally capturing signatures to ensure their validity, according to managing partner Juergen Hirtenfelder. The company’s technology embeds signatures into electronic documents. When users sign with a stylus, the style and biometric parameters (such as the pressure applied and movements made when signing) are recorded, enabling effective verification of the signatures. "It cannot be manipulated," says Hirtenfelder.

Additionally, paper documents are really more susceptible to fraud, according to Jemley. He explains that it’s certainly easier to forge a person’s signature on a document using a pen than it is to misrepresent someone with an electronic signature. "E-signatures are more secure and tamper-proof," says Jemley.

DocuSign helps protect users from fraud by attaching a series of 12 to 20 letters and numbers above an electronic signature. "It’s a sub-set of 128 characters and numbers associated with the signature," explains Jemley. "It is mathematically impossible that someone could come up with those hidden letters and numbers." The use of electronic signatures can also help reduce the incidence of identity theft since it reduces the amount of paper generated—paper that can be stolen after it’s discarded.

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