As technology continues to transform the way we work, more offices are trying to make the move to become truly paperless. E-signatures help keep a document’s workflow in the digital realm and can improve efficiency and security, giving you peace of mind that your company’s—and clients’—information is safe. But unfortunately not all e-signature platforms are created equal, so it’s important to delve into specifics so you can select the option that best meets your needs.
Here are six questions to ask potential e-signature vendors:
1. Can I ensure that a document hasn’t been altered or tampered with after each signature?
Some e-signature solutions offer a feature called tamper evidence, which allows you to see if an e-signed document has been altered, but varying technologies handle this in different ways. When looking for an e-signature partner with top-notch security, ask if its tamper-evident technology tracks everything from the moment the transaction begins, as opposed to only at the end of the entire signing process.
For legal certainty, it makes sense to make the document tamper evident after each individual initial and signature versus waiting until all signatures are complete. The technology should highlight any unauthorized attempted changes. The document’s integrity can be easily defended when you can prove that the first signer didn’t alter the document before it was sent to the second signer.
Some platforms have the added option of making the document tamper-proof, preventing any modifications to the document once it has been completed.
2. How comprehensive is the audit trail?
There is a wide variance in the amount of detail recorded by different e-signature platforms. The most secure e-signatures come with a granular audit trail that tracks and logs every element of the entire process, including:
- The date and time a document was submitted
- The signers’ consents
- Opt-outs or cancellations
- The IP address of each signer
- The precise time each signature and initial was made
- The issuing of digital certificates
- Many more details
A detailed audit trail ensures the document has the legal evidence behind it to stand up to scrutiny in court.
3. Will I need to rely on the provider to prove the legality of the signature?
Detailed information from tamper-evident technology and audit trails comes in handy when defending against attempts to repudiate, or contest, a transaction. But what good is this information if you can’t access it?
Look for an e-signature partner that allows you to verify signatures independently. That means you want the evidence of a digital signature to be permanently embedded into the signed document. An independent e-signature platform has technology that uses published standards and public key infrastructure (PKI) to prove that documents are valid and unchanged. The bottom line is that you own the evidence, so you can access it anytime—even years after the transaction took place.
That is not the case with most electronic signatures, which are tied to proprietary standards and require relying parties to go back to the vendor’s website to retrieve information about the signature.
How do you know if their technology will be the same in 10 years when you need to prove a signature in court? Or what if the vendor’s server goes down or the vendor goes out of business? Or what if you simply want to change to another vendor? You wouldn’t have the necessary evidence to prove that your documents are valid.
4. Does the platform meet industry compliance?
In addition to meeting ESIGN and UETA e-signature requirements, it may be important to investigate if your potential e-signature platform complies with regulatory standards relevant to your industry, including:
- Standards and Procedures for Electronic Records and Signatures (SPeRS) (financial services)
- Insured Retirement Institute’s E-Signature Standards for Straight Through Processing (annuities)
- Electronic Securities Transaction Act (securities)
- HIPAA (healthcare)
- 21 CFR Part 11 (life sciences)
Be sure to look into compliance needs and potential issues before picking an e-signature solution.
5. Can I be sure that only authorized persons receive, view, and sign documents?
To ensure that your documents don’t get in the wrong hands, make sure your e-signature partner uses at least two factors of authentication. For example, a basic version of multi-factor authentication combines something you know, like a password, with something you have, like an SMS text message to your mobile phone.
Some documents and forms contain more sensitive information than others, so you may need higher levels of authentication, based on the level of risk involved. There are a few other ways to prove your signers’ identities, including:
- Email-only authentication: A user clicks on a link in an email he receives, which takes the user to the transaction.
- Shared questions: A users answers personal questions that the sender has the answers to, such as the signer’s account number.
- Knowledge-based authentication (KBA): A user is prompted to input her date of birth and the last four digits of her social security number. When answered correctly, she’s then given a set of multiple-choice questions, which she must answer correctly to enter the transaction.
Generally, the more stringent the authentication requirements are, the more defensible the e-signature is.
6. Can the e-signature integrate into our existing document platforms?
A number of e-signature services have this capability, but the catch is looking at the level of integration. Most simply link users from one application—like an account opening solution—to an e-signature platform. A few go a step further and allow you to customize the e-signing process to match their own branding, which helps you tie the look of the two platforms together.
Even better is a partner who can provide true integration. That means the e-signature solution is fully customized to match the look and feel of your company’s existing technology, creating a seamless and comfortable signing experience for your customers.
It’s important to be informed and understand what you’re looking for when searching for an e-signature service. Company executives look to you for guidance, so it makes sense to do your due diligence and meet with several vendors before deciding which service to choose. With the right e-signature platform, your customers and partners will benefit from increased efficiency, security and overall user experience.