E-Signatures: separating fact from fiction to save businesses money

John O’Keeffe, VP of EMEA at document productivity company Nitro, debunks the myths surrounding e-signatures and outlines how they can save businesses time and money.

The explosion of enterprise software, productivity technology and social media platforms has significantly changed how the majority of businesses work.

In this fast-paced world of technological change it’s easy to assume that every business function has in some way transformed for the better. What if I told you that one crucial business process has remained unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and costs businesses worldwide millions?

You’d probably assume it was some technical, compliance-driven function that technology had yet to improve upon. The answer, however, is much simpler: it’s signing documents.

The process of printing, signing and posting signed documents and then waiting for a reply takes up an inordinate amount of time and money for businesses. Currently, it’s estimated that in the US it costs $6.50 to process each page of a hand-signed document and more than three days to turn around a printed signature request.

Add to this the average $3,000 cost to each business for simply managing the filing cabinet full of signed documents and the expenditure starts to seem ridiculous.

Of course, most of us know that e-signature technology already exists. The question is why haven’t businesses right across the board embraced it? The answer might be in how people perceive the legality of an e-signature on a document.

Concluding a business deal is usually the culmination of months of work and expense. The deal itself can easily represent a healthy chunk of a company’s revenue. It makes sense that business owners want to be one hundred per cent sure that they have a cast-iron contract that can’t be broken on a technicality.

In reality, there are no questions about legality. E-signatures can be used for any type of document. The EU legislated on e-signatures in July 2001 and the UK followed suit with the Electronic Signatures Regulation in 2002. In the US, 47 states have adopted UETA laws recognising e-signatures and the remaining three states have separate statutes. Globally, from Pakistan to Peru, there are clear laws that make e-signatures as legally binding as physical signatures. A full list can be read here.

Ironically, an e-signature is much more secure than a pen-and-ink signature with no witnesses. The technology to facilitate e-signatures is also incredibly affordable and easy to use. Luckily, the penny seems to have dropped for some companies. In 2014 the e-signature market grew by 40 per cent and e-signatures form a fundamental part of Nitro Cloud’s product offering.

According to Ombud Open Research, e-signatures represent a massive return on investment. The research reported an 80 per cent decrease in the turnaround time of signed documents, saving on average $20 per document and, unexpectedly, also played a major factor in increasing company loyalty.

Customers are generally much more comfortable with the concept of e-signing, perhaps due to the digitilisation of many other aspects of everyday life.

Online retail, contactless payment and the growing use of mobile transactions has made buying goods and services nearly frictionless. E-signatures represent a way to rid customers of a pain point and allow for products and services to be delivered sooner.

E-signatures are also increasingly essential in the modern business environment. Many businesses now have to deal with a distributed workforce and customer base. Geographical and time zone issues pose a big challenge to efficiency. E-signatures can remove these barriers by providing on-the-go mobile signing.

In the future, more businesses will use e-signing to connect lines of business by linking them to commonly used apps such as Salesforce, Box and Google Apps. An e-signature can be requested which when signed triggers a workflow from these apps.

Similarly, corporate governance can be improved and made more transparent, with e-signatures providing evidence of proper approval. In some cases, depending on the document type and workflow, e-signatures can be automated to increase efficiency further.

It seems odd that in a world where business processes are coordinated using productivity software, files saved and edited in the cloud, and communication takes place over email or chat software, that signing on the dotted line remains a physical, archaic process.

The savings businesses can make by embracing e-signature technology can’t be ignored. Thankfully, companies are starting to wake up to the fact that e-signing can make their lives much more efficient, however, it is still far from the norm.

If you own or work in a business, big or small, I would suggest looking at the e-signature options out there. For minimal cost, e-signatures are a legal, safer and faster way to do business.