The Future of E-Signatures

Thousands of people sign their life away with the endless hours it takes to endorse the number of agreements they encounter over the course of their life. The need to document different varieties of events goes back thousands of years. Since then, people must sign contracts, loans, checks, separate agreements, and many other forms for companies to know that the statement written or implied is correct. With endless amounts of paperwork to be signed, exchanged, and checked, programmers have created a type of signature to avoid wet signatures, signatures made on paper, and to allow people to breeze by all the tedious paperwork. This type of signature goes by two names. One title is virtual signatures, and the other is electronic signatures, shortened to e-signatures. Virtual and electronic signatures are the solution to the mounds of wasted paper, and these signature services are becoming commonplace tools. From its early stages in the 70s to the efficient form it has become, the future of virtual signatures will include increased speed, improved security, increased stock price, and added artificial intelligence.

Background

A flow chart that describes how electronic signatures started and where they are going.

Electronic signatures are decades old by 20201, and, surprisingly, more people than many will believe have already used an e-signature service to quickly give their approval on a document without a second thought. By now, people have signed leasing agreements for their new apartment or signed off bank transactions using one of the many digital services that existed for many years. As shown in the flow chart above, just the idea of electronic signatures goes back almost 50 years in 1976. Emily Maxie created this flow chart on the 13th of February in 2014. She is a graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the world’s first collegiate business school. From this flow chart, we know that a primitive version of a digital signature was created in 1977. In the middle of the flow chart above, it is shown that Signix was formed in 2002, and the last fact states that “the digital signature market is projected to quadruple by 2020.” Even at the beginning of the 2000s, virtual signatures had high expectations. With the high outlook, many other creators build their own digital signature services.

With the introduction of software and PDF formats that allow people to use digital signatures, entrepreneurs created various digital signature companies. One of the more popular companies that work with digital signatures, and the one that has profited the most from creating this service, is DocuSign. With the future in mind, “DocuSign was founded in 2003 with a product that made it easy to capture signatures electronically.” This company has continued to grow to new heights, and “since [2003], its core e-signature offering has been adopted by more than 660,000 customers.” These points written by Brian Withers, a previous IBM, Dell, and Allergan employee, are concluded with the detail that “although [660,000 customers] seems like a huge number, management estimates that it’s only tapped about 1% of its target market.” Over a decade ago, DocuSign, Adobe Sign, Signix, and more digital signature services laid a new platform in electronic communications for the purpose of others using it to build off over the next few years. The following years are filled with innovative new ideas on how e-signatures will work with the government.

Where We Are Now

Ever since a few years ago, when digital signatures were first introduced to the world, e-signatures have come a long way to keep online signatures legal. They have allowed people to sign documents with government approval and have allowed people to avoid copying and pasting an already-made signature that has no legality. The majority of people would think that the picture of their signature pasted on an emailed document is perfectly fine, but the process of signing a document is more complicated than one would think. When someone signs a document by copying and pasting a picture of their signature onto the page, the signature will not hold up in court. It has no legal binding between the parties present because the look of a signature is not what businesses and companies look for when they ask for an endorsement. As confirmed by Wainewright, a blogger, an analyst, a speaker, and a consultant since 1998, “when someone pastes a scanned image of their signature into a PDF without using a proper digital signature service, then even though it may look more respectable, that signature is not legally valid.” Pasting a signature that was made in advance onto a document that was received by email is not the same as using a digital signature service because a copied signature lacks confirmation of identity. Through the signature services, people must put in information that includes a username, password, name, and email to confirm their identification before signing. Copying a signature and then pasting it onto a document can be done by anyone and makes that action not legally binding. In the end, people need to continue to switch to e-signature services because even the law agrees with it.

With usernames, passwords, and other security measures in place, e-signatures became legal under the United States Government, a couple years prior to now. Using a digital signature service has affected the legal side of documents since 2000. As it is said on an Impact Financial Systems post, “the passing of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), and the Electronic Signatures in Global National Commerce Act (ESIGN) in 1999 and 2000, respectively, gave the government’s blessing to allow e-signatures to be legally binding” (Data is Driving). With these acts in place, electronic signatures became stronger within courts. People can now safely sign online documents and companies can safely offer online documents to their customers.

Only two years ago did the government get more involved with electronic signatures. As a part of a new act that was signed into law on December 20, 2018, titled 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (“21st Century IDEA”), the United States department representatives were required to make the Federal government more accessible to the public. To do so, these people were required to make paper documents digital and to add electronic signatures to their everyday process. Hal Marcus, a global legal evangelist and DocuSign contributor, reminds us that “all executive agency heads are currently facing a deadline of June 2019 to develop and share with Congress their plans to accelerate their adoption of electronic signatures.” This statement shows that e-signatures have come a long way to get accepted by Congress and the many Secretaries of the U.S.

The Future

For the future, people are expecting this new type of signature to speed up document processing, eliminate possible fraud, increase the product’s stock market, and add AI into the system. This type of future with digital signatures is not too far either. The most recent sign of the future of e-signatures coming closer is companies plan to use them to increase productivity and decrease chances of fraud. The companies that wish to use digital signature services can increase productivity due to the fact that “some of the formal documents or agreements require some witnesses to the signature. They also need initials of both the signatory and witness on each page” (Paula). Using digital signatures can bypass most of the tedious steps that are normally required. Witnesses will no longer be needed for an agreement to be valid in the eyes of a jury and the person who signed the agreement will no longer need to worry about if the witnesses signed the paper as well.

Technology is improving quickly and the time it takes to do things will speed up along with new improvements. With an increased speed, companies will be able to keep up with the overflow of digital documents. In an official DocuSign blog, another DocuSign contributor reports that “businesses that used an electronic signature solution before the pandemic reported an increase in the number of documents that need to be signed electronically — often by as much as 100%” (The Current State). Within this current pandemic that forces the world to turn to the internet and new digital technologies, the doors to the future of digital signatures are open.

The introduction of digital signatures eliminated the slow process of signing papers and will eliminate the fear of fraud. Forgery can put a business in the dump and can destroy a person’s life. These problems and fears can be easily evaded because, as said by the product manager from eSignly, a “business can resolve these issues by implementing electronic signature solutions. They are the most secure and tamper-proof method of document signing” (Paula). With their many barriers of protection, electronic signature services will allow people to be able to rely on them to prevent hoaxes and fraud.

In most cases, the chances of any type of business existing in the future depend on if the company is able to bring in more money than they lose. Some of those businesses rely on the stock market. People know electronic signatures will be the future because of many factors, one of which is the expected increase in stock. The stock market for one of the e-signature businesses, DocuSign, is expected to increase as more companies use this digital signature service. As predicted by a team of people that aim to make business easier for others, including businesses along the lines of Wells Fargo, “DocuSign, the largest vendor, processes 1.5 million documents daily. The market is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2023” (Data is Driving). With the millions of documents one electronic signature service goes through in one day, the efficiency is clear, and the company is not going anywhere with a predicted market in the billions.

To the majority of people across the world, key items such as speed, safety, and stocks are the main ingredients to a service they would want to use in their weekly routine. So, when it is announced that the biggest electronic signature service will be adding artificial intelligence to go further, people expect high things from that company. DocuSign has partnered with a company called Seal Software. Seal Software is a company based on analyzing data in agreements. The combination of these companies led to a realization that “customers have experienced tremendous benefits from Seal’s software.” Some of the benefits are “a 75% reduction in legal review time for contracts, an automated analysis of 2.6 million contractual data points, or a comprehensive review of 25,000 agreements completed in just five days” (Withers). Seal’s software is proof of the fact that the next step to the future of electronic signatures is an easy step to take.

With new software in hand and positive predictions for the stock market, digital signature services will be able to take off and take control within a few years. For this to happen, digital signature services need to focus on building their efficiency and DocuSign needs to focus on its purchase of Seal Software. Before the world knows it, wet signatures will become an atypical occurrence, and not getting paperwork done within the hour will be unheard of. With faster speed, tougher security, higher stocks, and smarter AI, the future of e-signatures is bright and hopeful.

Works Cited

“The Current State of Electronic Signature Technology.” DocuSign, 5 March 2021, www.docusign.com/blog/the-current-state-electronic-signature-technology. Accessed 4 April 2021.

“Data is Driving Our Future So Leave the Forms Behind.” IFS Automation, 7 Apr. 2020, https://www.ifsautomation.com/post/data-is-driving-our-future-so-leave-the-forms-behind. Accessed 6 Apr 2021.

Marcus, Hal. “Why the Federal Government Should be Interested in the Future of Digital Agreements.” DocuSign, 6 March 2019, https://www.docusign.com/blog/why-the-federal-government-should-be-interested-in-the-future-of-digital-agreements. Accessed April 2021.

Paula. “Why Electronic Signature is the Future of Business Contract Signing for Any Industry.” eSignly, https://www.esignly.com/electronic-signature/Features/why-electronic-signature-is-the-future-of-business-contract-signing-for-any-industry.html. Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Wainewright, Phil. “DocuSign Founder: The Future of Signatures in a Paper-Free World.” Diginomica, 23 Feb. 2014, https://diginomica.com/docusign-founder-future-signatures-paper-free-world. Accessed 5 April 2021.

Withers, Brian. “Where Will DocuSign Be in 5 Years?” The Motley Fool, 14 Jul. 2020, https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/07/14/where-will-docusign-be-in-5-years.aspx. Accessed 6 April 2021.

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