Electronic signatures: COVID-19 and working from home

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Michael Crowe, CEO of Finance Isle of Man, discusses how COVID-19 has prompted many businesses to rethink and adapt the ways they work and why as a result of the pandemic’s impact, the use of business platforms and technologies such as e-signatures has never been more pertinent.

As the world tries to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in demand for the use of technologies such as electronic e-signatures. As businesses and public bodies implement home-working protocols in response to working from home guidance, remote contract signings will become a prerequisite.

E-signatures present a welcome solution to one of the challenges of homeworking – having the means to process transactions and agreements away from an office environment, processes which may include and are not limited to:

  • business as usual customer contracts
  • supplier agreements
  • work orders
  • contracts of employment
  • purchase orders
  • board minutes
  • corporate re-organisations, mergers, acquisitions and disposals

Regardless of current circumstances, electronic signature systems are widely used across the world especially when helping to overcome challenges such as business continuity and remote working; enabling businesses to remain engaged with a range of (now remote) stakeholders including customers, suppliers and employees.

E-Sign, an Isle of Man based electronic signature software provider, has already seen an increase in businesses looking to digitally transform their signature processes, following the outbreak of coronavirus;

‘E-Sign is working with businesses from a range of industries to help digitise their back office and customer facing processes during this time. This includes secure digital signature capture, which can be accessed and managed securely from anywhere in the world.

The events of the past few weeks have resulted in an influx of businesses looking to digitise their processes whilst operating remote working practices, to ensure business continuity and customer engagement continues.

The teams at E-Sign have been working around the clock with both existing businesses to expand their requirements, and new businesses who now need to go digital.

Our job is to make this process as smooth as possible for them during this difficult time’

Thomas Taylor, Managing Director, E-Sign

Manx Business Solutions (MBS), an IT services business based in the Isle of Man, has also seen the same uplift in enquiries for their DocuSign e-signature solutions for businesses;

‘We have seen a dramatic and unprecedented rise in demand for DocuSign e-signature solutions from a wide range of businesses, particularly in financial and professional services.  This is due to coronavirus.

Ink and paper signatures have been the bedrock of life for many years, from securing a driver’s licence to finding a job to buying a house, as well as for any business to provide a service to its customers, our signature on a piece of paper has been essential. So moving to e-signatures felt scary to many people and businesses.  Coronavirus has fundamentally changed that.

It is now logistically very difficult to post a document to people to sign.  In the past people would typically print documents in their office and post them to the customer’s office for signing.  When staff and customers are working from home that simply does not work.  So e-signatures are the way businesses are going to carry on functioning’.

Chris Corlett, Head of Business Development with MBS

E-signatures are explicitly legal in 188 countries and many other countries recognise them as legally binding if both parties enter into them willingly. E-signature legislation came into effect on the Isle of Man in 2000 with the Isle of Man Electronic Transactions Act.

However businesses must still be aware that when determining how to issue an e-signature, it is important to consider the level of certainty that can be given to ensure that the correct person has signed the document and that the document has not been fraudulently executed. Systems will include multi-factor authentication, requiring a signatory to provide more than just an email address. SMS is a common second factor whereby the document can only be opened if a code is provided that has been sent to the signatory by SMS message separately from the emailed link to the document.

It is also worth noting, that e-signatures are not valid for all transactions – for example, UK law requires a contract for the sale of land in England and Wales to be in writing and signed in ink. But much of this is due to old law written before e-signatures were available and most countries are changing. For example, the EU is actively encouraging all Government bodies to utilise e-signatures.

Whilst most organisations will have some experience of digital signatures (and existing licences or subscriptions for e-signature platforms) not many organisations will have well-defined policies and procedures or be familiar with the practical and legal limitations of e-signature solutions.

A good starting point is to ensure the e-signature platform and/or provider you are considering are recognised and appropriately accredited to international standards. Many platform providers will provide demonstrations, offer guidance, free trials and pilot projects to help businesses build their understanding and trust of the technology before they use it widely with clients. Businesses should also consider implementing a solution with a small number of trusted suppliers and/or customers to build knowledge and experience, rolling out in a controlled, phased manner to all staff, suppliers and customers.

The use of e-signatures and electronic customer due diligence (CDD) is also permitted in the regulated and designated business sector. On 26 March 2020, the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority (the “Authority”) issued very helpful and pragmatic guidance to industry setting out how to comply with regulatory and AML requirements during the COVID-19 lockdown including in relation to holding face to face meetings via video conference, “selfie” KYC documents, electronic CDD and electronic signatures. The guidance can be found here. The Authority is updating its website regularly as the COVID-19 situation develops.


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