"E-signatures are here to stay. As people get used to a certain way of doing digital transactions, we will see much greater adoption as we come out of the pandemic. "
Sameer Hajarnis, E-signatures Practice Lead
The global pandemic has meant that businesses all over the world have had to find new ways of working, accelerate digital transformation projects, and rapidly adopt technologies that allow them to continue to operate effectively.
Technology companies with products that allow companies to not just function, but function more effectively in the current climate have seen exponential growth in their usage and share prices. In the Banking and Financial Services sector, an area that has seen exponential growth is e-signature technology.
E-signatures allow you to get approval on a digital document without the need for a handwritten signature. Banks and financial institutions are adopting e-signatures for processes such as new account opening, consumer and business lending, end-to-end digital mortgage processes and remote notarization for buying homes.
To find out more about the recent rise in adoption of e-signature technology, we spoke to Sameer Hajarnis, practice lead for e-signatures at OneSpan a Chicago-based digital identity and anti-fraud company, whose customers include more than half of the top 100 global banks.
E-signature technology has been around for 20 years. What impact has COVID-19 had on the recent rise of adoption of the technology?
“OneSpan has been working with E-Signature technology for 20 years but in the last 5 years, we’ve seen significant adoption as large banks have been digitizing their workflows to achieve operational efficiencies. Suddenly in March 2020, every CEO started looking at their business continuity plan and realized that the plans they made in 2019 were no longer consistent with the world that we now live in. Technology which enabled remote workforce operationalization became in high demand and e-signature technology allowed them to continue to operate as they did in the past prior to the pandemic.”
It seems like many companies have historically been slow or resistant to fully embracing e-signature technology – why do you think that is?
“Pre-COVID-19, many organizations typically only use e-signatures to take care of ‘straight-through’ applications but, when it came to individuals, customers preferred to do transactions face to face. A document would often start out digital, but then people would just print it out and sign it off together face to face. It took a big change in mid-March – suddenly, everyone was at home and you could no longer meet people face to face. So, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to adopt e-signatures before but, for customer care purposes, they preferred to take care of things individually and meet the customer personally. But these are now exactly the kinds of transactions where we have started seeing a lot of adoption. As an example, one of the top banks in Canada got 70,000 of their employees set up with e-signatures – all their employees were at home and they wanted to ensure that they could all transact and continue to provide services just as they had always done.”
For lots of people, face-to-face meetings can be inconvenient and time-consuming. Do banks still see meeting customers face to face as a benefit?
“There’s a certain segment of customers, especially millennials and the younger generation which are averse to going into a banking center – as the traditional banking model is not what they want to work with. They’re very comfortable with using a device to look at their accounts and transacting online. Younger customers have different buying patterns and you can gain tremendous benefits by providing them with a better digital experience. However, for customers who were traditionally used to face-to-face meetings, Banks are looking at innovative ways to make these meetings contactless to provide people confidence in interacting with their bankers. “
If businesses aren’t meeting customers face to face, how are they able to be certain that the person e-signing is who they say they are?
“Based on the level of assurance required, there are a variety of options for the sender to determine how they want the signer to confirm that they are who they claim to be. It could be a simple email or a more complex solution using multi-factor authentication with government IDs or facial recognition with liveness detection and biometrics.”
But what about trust from the customer’s perspective?
“People need to have trust in the document they are signing. OneSpan Sign is unique in that the e-signature technology provides a tamper seal secure experience along with a fully white labelled e-sign process so that when you get an email asking you to sign off on something, you see an email completely branded from the institution that you were expecting to transact with.”
There are significant cost savings associated with adopting e-signature technology but are there also additional benefits to consider?
“Yes, customer experience, compliance with regulatory requirements, operational efficiencies – these are some of the additional benefits that are really driving people towards adopting e-signature technologies. There are also a lot of compliance requirements to ensure that documents are in order and forms are completed correctly – which banks traditionally spend a lot of money. If you digitize these processes, they become streamlined, so you are actually giving time back to employees to enable them to do more productive work, closing businesses and talking to customers.”
“Unlike paper documentation, you can also see a full audit trail of the document - Who created the package? What time was it created? What IP address was used? Who signed it first? How did they sign it? How did they authenticate themselves? The whole history is available. “
Do you think e-signature adoption is just temporary or do you think this is a permanent change to the way transactions will be performed going forward?
“E-signatures are here to stay. As people get used to a certain way of doing digital transactions, we will see much greater adoption as we come out of the pandemic. Even as things stabilize, we are going to see greater adoption of contactless transactions. Even if we meet face to face, I still don’t want to use your device to sign off on something - I want to use my own. We’re having more of those conversations with customers now around how do we facilitate more contactless transactions.”
With e-signatures now experiencing a huge swing in adoption, what future developments are we likely to see to this technology in the future?
“There is a lot of investment happening in remotely assisted transactions. Imagine if you are buying a car and there is a document to sign. Car finance forms are complicated documents and you need someone to walk you through it – typically, this would have happened in the auto dealership with the finance manager. In the future, that is going to happen digitally with a virtual room where people can come in and collaborate, their identities can be verified, they can be looking at each other face to face and looking at the documents together and answering questions.”
As bank branches close as lockdowns around the world continue, e-signatures have become an increasingly important technology that enables financial institutions to serve customers through fully digital channels. It is organizations such as OneSpan that are helping these financial institutions embrace e-signature technology, guiding them through how it can enable efficiencies, improve processes, ensure legal compliance while, most importantly, delivering a superior customer experience for all of us.