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How eSignature Applications and Approval Workflows Strengthen Compliance

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What Is an eSignature Application?

An eSignature application is an online tool that is used for electronic signatures in lieu of traditional paper and ink (i.e., wet signatures) or signed papers that are scanned or emailed. These are considered valid signatures when used in electronic forms, contracts, and other types of agreements.

The use of eSignature applications is rapidly expanding due to their convenience, efficiency, security, and verification capabilities. Authorized parties simply open the document, completeany mandatory fields, and add their eSignature. Then, the signed document is uploaded to the eSignature application’s platform.

Organizations that manage  traditional signed documents should strongly consider using an eSignature application.

Below are several of the core aspects of eSignature applications:

Audit trails
To ensure the legality and validity of digitally signed documents, eSignature applications maintain an audit trail that records all actions taken on the document and applies timestamps—from initial upload to final signature.

Document upload
eSignature applications allow users to upload a variety of document formats, including PDF, Word, and image files (e.g., JPG or PNG). Once uploaded, the documents can be edited in the application to prepare them for distribution. This includes adding fields for signatures, dates, and other required information.

Integration capabilities
Many eSignature applications offer integration capabilities to embed the functionality into other tools that can integrate with companion software solutions, such as:

  • Accounting software to support electronic signatures for financial documents
  • Cloud storage services to store and provide access to electronically signed documents or documents with electronic signature capabilities from cloud platforms
  • CRM software to enable users to send contracts or agreements with electronic signature capabilities to customers
  • Customer support tools to enable electronic signatures for legal and service agreements in customer service workflows
  • Document management systems to facilitate access to documents
  • Email platforms to allow documents to be sent and electronically signed via email
  • HR and payroll systems to streamline onboarding processes and HR documentation by including electronic signature capabilities
  • Project management tools to create project-related documents with electronic signature capabilities

Mobile access
Most eSignature applications provide mobile versions to give users the ability to sign documents from anywhere, anytime, using connected devices.

Security measures
eSignature applications combine a number of strong security measures to protect sensitive documents and signatures, including end-to-end encryption and strict authorization and access controls.

Signature creation
Users can create electronic versions of their signatures using a mouse, stylus, or touchscreen. Some eSignature applications give users the option to simply type their name and convert it to a script font representation of their signature

Types of eSignatures

eSignature applications support various forms of digital signature. Each eSignature has unique characteristics and applications, with some providing different levels of security, verification, and legal validity applicable for different uses and contexts.

Simple electronic signatures (SES)Simple electronic signatures can be as basic as a typed name or a scanned image of a handwritten signature. These eSignatures are easy to create and use but offer the lowest level of security protection and are easy to dispute.
Clickwrap signaturesClickwrap signatures are widely used in online agreements where simply clicking a button (e.g., “I approve”) is considered acceptance of the terms.
Electronic pad and stylus signaturesElectronic pad and stylus signatures are usually used for retail or deliveries. The signatory simply signs a device using a stylus, and the digital signature is captured. While these lack strong security protections, these eSignatures are considered to have a high degree of authenticity because they capture a person’s actual handwritten signature.
Digital signaturesA digital signature is a secure, cryptographic eSignature. It is used to authenticate the identity of the signer of a digital document and validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software, or digital document. While not a human signature, it is the electronic equivalent of a handwritten signature and acts as a stamped seal that provides proof of origin and identity.
Advanced electronic signatures (AES)Advanced electronic signatures are uniquely linked to a signatory. More secure than SES, these eSignatures can definitively identify a signatory linked to a document in such a way that any subsequent change would be detectable.
Qualified electronic signatures (QES)Qualified electronic signatures are the most secure type of eSignature. In most jurisdictions, these are considered to be the legal equivalent of an ink and paper signature and are legally equivalent to handwritten signatures in many
jurisdictions. Qualified electronic signatures require a digital certificate from a trusted certification authority as well as the use of a secure eSignature creation device.

How to Authenticate an eSignature

eSignature applications use various methods to authenticate an electronic signature. The different processes used by eSignature applications validate an eSignature by confirming that it is securely linked to the document and that alterations are detectable. Following are several methods used by eSignature applications to ensure the signature’s validity and the signer’s identity.

  • Audit trail documents that can show the signing process step-by-step.
  • Biometric verification uses biometric data, such as a fingerprint or retinal scanning, for verification.
  • Digital certificates issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) can confirm a signatory’s identity.
  • Email certification is sometimes used with a verification link being sent via email to the signatory.
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI) uses a pair of keys (i.e., public and private) for encryption and decryption to ensure authenticity.
  • SMS verification sends a code to the signatory’s mobile phone for authentication.
  • Timestamps verify the time of signing.

Adhering to Industry Standards and Compliance 

To adhere to laws and industry standards for electronic signatures, the following steps should be included in the processes followed when using eSignature applications:

Understand relevant laws
Take time to determine which laws and industry standards are applicable and what must be done to maintain compliance.

Use compliant eSignature applications
Select eSignature applications that not only comply with laws and regulations but have any certifications required in the jurisdictions where the organization operates.

Verify identities of signatories
Use strong authentication methods to validate the identity of signatories.

Maintain audit trails
Keep detailed records of the signing process, including timestamps and IP addresses.

Train users
Educate all users on the correct use of eSignature applications and the legal imperatives behind the defined processes.

Review and update.
Regularly review and update eSignature policies to ensure they reflect the ongoing changes to laws and standards. Take time also to review eSignature applications to be sure that they are staying current as well.

eSignature Application Workflows

eSignature application workflows streamline the process of signing documents electronically. Following are the key steps in these workflows:

How to Add Signers
Adding signers in an eSignature application is usually as simple as entering names and email addresses into the provided fields. If there are multiple signatories, they can also be added at that stage.

Parallel and Sequential Signing
eSignature applications usually support parallel and sequential signing.

  • Parallel signing
    All signatories receive the document simultaneously and can sign in any order.
  • Sequential signing
    Signatories receive the document only after the previous signer has completed their part. The order is predetermined and set in the eSignature application. A simple example would be a tenant signing a rental agreement electronically, which is subsequently submitted to the landlord for final sign-off.

How to eSign a Document
The electronic signing of a document with most eSignature applications is a fast and easy process that involves just a few steps. These can vary based on the eSignature application, and include the following:

1. Receive invitation.

2. Open the document that needs to be signed.

3. Agree to electronic signing.

4. Add a signature using options presented, such as drawing it using a mouse or stylus, typing it and selecting a font, or uploading an image.

5. Place the uploaded signature on the document.

6. Save and send the electronically signed document.

Adding a Customized Message, Due Date, and Reminders
Most eSignature applications provide the option to add a customized message to signatories when sending documents for electronic signature. There is usually a “Message” or “Note” field when setting up the request. With most eSignature applications, it is possible to add a due date for the electronic signature and schedule automatic reminders at a user-specified frequency.

Document Storage, Retrieval, and Archival
eSignature applications commonly offer capabilities for document storage, retrieval, and archival.

  • Storage— eSignature applications store signed documents in users’ accounts. The license agreement dictates the amount of storage space.
  • Retrieval— documents can be retrieved by logging into the eSignature account and downloading documents from the document library.
  • Archival— older electronically signed documents can be moved to a separate area within the document library.

Benefits of eSignature Applications

The use of eSignature applications continues to grow due to the many benefits they provide, including the following.

Most eSignature applications are designed with features that confirm that electronic signatures and digitally signed documents comply with applicable regulations. These include standards for which electronic signatures are recognized as legally valid.

Using eSignature applications, electronic signatures can be requested and submitted from any connected device with internet access. This flexibility is of particular benefit to individuals and organizations that operate from distributed locations or those who need to sign documents outside of a traditional office hours-driven business environment, where efficiency and ease of processes are highly valued.

Cost savings
eSignature applications deliver significant cost savings, primarily by eliminating the physical resources and processes associated with paper-based signing. This includes savings on paper, ink, printing equipment, and document delivery (e.g., postage or courier fees). Additional savings are generated by cutting down the administrative time to file, store, and manage physical documents.

Easy storage and retrieval
Document management and storage are often handled by eSignature applications, which enable tracking of electronically signed documents. This maximizes security protection and eliminates the risk of lost or misplaced documents.

Global acceptance
The increasing global acceptance of electronic signatures enables organizations around the world to take advantage of eSignature applications. This has been driven by the passage of laws around the world that establish criteria for legitimate electronic signatures and eSignature applications. These laws include:

  • Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS)
    This European Union (EU) regulation standardizes rules for electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions across member states. eIDAS defines different levels of eSignatures based on the level of security and verification:
    • Simple electronic signatures (SES)—the lowest level
    • Advanced electronic signatures (AES)—more secure than SES
    • Qualified electronic signatures (QES)—highest security level
  • Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act)
    This United States law grants legal validity to electronic signatures and records. Unlike eIDAS, the E-Sign Act does not specify different levels of eSignatures. However, it has specific requirements to prove validity, such as signer intent and documented record keeping processes.

UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce
This model law was developed by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) to provide a framework for electronic commerce transactions, including electronic signatures. It recognizes the legal validity of electronic signatures and supports the harmonization of national laws on electronic commerce with the goal of having consistent standards worldwide.

  • Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA)

  • Like the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce, the United States UETA is a legal framework for electronic signatures and records in the U.S. and it grants legal recognition to electronic signatures and records, provided they meet certain requirements.
  • Other international laws governing eSignatures
    Many other countries have their laws governing the use of electronic signatures. Examples include:
    • Electronic Communications Act in the United Kingdom
    • Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) in Australia.
    • Information Technology Act (ITA) in India
    • Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada

Legally binding
In many countries, eSignature applications can produce electronic signatures that are considered legally recognized , and they hold the same weight as traditional signatures. This legal recognition is based on adherence to specific laws and regulations that define what criteria must be met, such as consent, intent, and appropriate verification methods.

Due to the sensitivity of signatures, eSiganature applications include robust security measures that provide not only protection to the electronic files but also a higher level of security and guarantees of authenticity than are possible with ink signatures on paper documents. Several of the technologies used with eSignature applications are:

  • Audit trails to document the signing process, including timestamps and signatory information
  • Authentication to confirm that the signature is legitimate
  • Encryption to protect the documents and signatures from unauthorized access in motion and at rest
  • Tamper-evident technology to detect and flag any alterations made to a document after signing

Speed and efficiency

eSignature applications streamline workflows by reducing the time spent waiting for paper-based signatures that require physical presence or delivery of physical papers (e.g., by mail or courier). With eSignature applications, documents can be signed and returned in near real-time from anywhere. This improves customer experience and satisfaction with the engagement.

With eSignature applications, a record is maintained of who has signed the document, when, and where. This traceability feature eSignature applications provides a detailed audit trail for each document signed, which can be used as evidence in legal disputes or to facilitate audits.

eSignature Platforms

eSignature platforms offer features to support the generation, collection, and storage of electronic signatures. In addition to enabling electronic signatures, key capabilities of eSignature platforms include tracking the status of documents that await signatures, providing a high level of security, and maintaining compliance with applicable laws and regulations to ensure that electronic signatures are as legally binding as traditional handwritten ones. eSignature applications and platforms are often integrated with other tools and systems to enable seamless workflows and end- to-end management.

Streamline Workflows and Assure Compliance with eSignature Applications

Using a purpose-built eSignature application is considered a best practice by many leading organizations. eSignature applications have provided not just technical capabilities and processes but have also helped organizations meet legal and compliance requirements and standards. Organizations that manage traditional signed documents should strongly consider using an eSignature application.

Egnyte has experts ready to answer your questions. For more than a decade, Egnyte has helped more than 22,000+ customers with millions of users worldwide.

Last Updated: 22nd April, 2024

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