Wrapping your head around electronic signatures (e-signatures) can be daunting, especially if you're used to the old paper-based methods. But in reality, this 20-year-old technology can be mastered in minutes for a result that's fast, reliable, secure and most importantly, legally binding.

The History of Signatures

The concept of using a signature as a method of verification has been around for millennia. The Ancient Egyptians were using hieroglyphs to sign their names 5,000 years ago. Two thousand years later, the Phoenicians invented the first alphabet which was adopted and adapted by the Greeks.

The Romans picked up the idea and ran with it, signing their name in the Latin alphabet which is known around the world today. Signatures were a useful way to tie an artist to their work and to guarantee the authenticity of written laws and military orders.

For many years, signatures had a competitor in the verification field - seals formed from wax which were imprinted with a stamp or ring that was unique to the owner.

Timeline of change of signatures
The history of signatures

The oldest seals date back to Ancient Egypt, but this method of assuring authenticity reached peak popularity in the Medieval era when Kings and Catholic church leaders took to sealing correspondence and documents with red wax seals. The practice was copied and popularized, first by rich nobles, and later by anyone who could afford it.

It was the English Parliament that passed the first law declaring the written signature as an official authorization of a contract. The Statute of Frauds, which became law in 1677, kicked off the widespread use of the signature by anyone who was fortunate enough to be literate.

The Impact of Technology

Reproducing signatures at scale became possible with the invention of the printing press in 1440. But the real technological game changer for signatures came with the birth of the fax machine in the 1980s.

A fax machine with documents
Faxing a document

For the first time in history, signed documents could be sent via a phone line and received all over the world in minutes. Then came another and even bigger technological advancement which shaped the evolution of the signature - the internet.

Businesses around the world were quick to seize on the potential of e-commerce, sending scans of signed documents over email. Although much quicker than sending a signed document in the mail, the print, sign and scan (PSS) method still had a number of frustrating drawbacks.

Printing, signing and scanning a document
The Print Sign Scan methode

PSS could only work when all parties had access to a printer, ink and paper, making it really inconvenient for anyone working outside a traditional office setting. This long-winded signing method was also frequently slowed down by paper jams, printer errors, or simply a lack of ink. Because, as we soon discovered, printers are a true enemy of efficiency.

The Legalization of Electronic Signatures

Electronic signature solutions, which bypassed the need for PSS, were a breath of fresh air when they came along in the late 1990s. Today, they are still the simplest way for most people to do business as all it takes is a few clicks to sign and send a legally binding document.

A signature on a phone
Signing online

E-signatures were declared to be legally binding in 2000 when the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act was signed into law. In the same year, the ESIGN Act, which gave electronically signatures the same legal status as pen-and-paper signatures, was signed into law in the United States.

Since then the market for e-signatures has boomed. By 2023, the digital signature market is set to be worth $5.5 billion according to a research report "Digital Signature Market by Solution (Software and Hardware), Service, Deployment Mode, Application (BFSI, Government & Defense, Legal, Real Estate, HR, Manufacturing & Engineering, Healthcare & Life Sciences), and Region - Global Forecast to 2023," published by MarketsandMarkets.

What is an Electronic Signature?

An electronic signature is made up from several components, only one of which is the signature itself. For an electronically signed document to be considered legally binding in a court of law, the e-signature must be completed with the consent and intent of the signer.

The e-signature must be verified as the signature of the person who is signing, which is why e-signature solutions come with built-in verification methods. Also, there needs to be a digital paper trail that makes it possible for an e-signature to be audited.

Safety of e-signatures
Layers of security

While e-signatures may sound complicated in theory, the reality is that they are quick and simple to use, even for complete beginners. Their simplicity is actually one of the main reasons why e-signature solutions have been adopted so widely and so quickly.

Once a document is signed electronically, any attempt to edit the information will automatically render the digital signature – and therefore the electronic signature – visibly invalid. E-signatures are therefore a great way to prevent documents from being tampered with.

And, because e-signatures require additional layers of user authentication, they are actually more secure than their handwritten predecessors, “wet signatures.”

How to Sign Something Electronically

The exact process varies depending on which solution you use, but essentially the document to be signed is uploaded to a website. The document is then tagged to show where a signature is required before it is emailed to all parties who are required to sign.

The signer(s) fills in all the necessary fields, such as name and date, then signs the document electronically. The signed document is then automatically emailed back to the original sender, and is automatically stored for safe, secure and convenient access.

The Benefits of E-signatures

It's no coincidence that more and more documents are being signed using e-signature solutions every day. These tools make signing and sending a document quick, easy and secure.

A wheel of reasons to use e-signatures
Reasons for e-signing

Besides being super user-friendly, e-signature solutions save businesses a ton of money by cutting out paper-related expenses such as purchasing, copying, printing and storage costs.

Swapping wet signatures for e-signatures paves the way for paperless working which, aside from being better for the environment, can save an organization heaps of storage space. It also removes the possibility of important documents being lost in incidents like floods or fires.

However the most important thing that e-signatures can help businesses to save is  that most valuable of all commodities - time. Printing, signing and scanning documents, then chasing them up via email is a hugely time-consuming process. E-signature solutions can cut a document's turnaround time to under a minute.

Some e-signature solutions speed up workflow even further by allowing users to send a document out for signature to hundreds of users at once with a single click of the button.

They also let users create templates of their most commonly used documents so you will only have to upload and prepare them once and can use them forever.

Another benefit of using e-signatures is that by specifying which fields need to be filled in on a document, they ensure a document is completed accurately. This prevents that common problem of getting a signed contract back only to find that the name or date fields have accidentally been left blank.

Using e-signatures can add an extra layer of security to documents, protecting them with methods such as passcodes, encryption and two-factor authentication.

And, while storing and keeping track of paperwork can be a burden, e-signed digital documents can be filed and organized electronically, making storage and access wonderfully easy. In fact, some integrated e-signature solutions will automatically save documents to everyday storage tools like Dropbox and Google Drive.

The structure of organizations is changing with a marked rise in the number of workers who telecommute from locations around the world and a trend towards workforce globalization.

A 2016 survey by Deloitte found that 72 percent of respondents see virtual teaming capabilities across cultures as becoming significant and normative in the next five years. And, according to research conducted by Upwork, 73% of all work teams will feature remote workers by 2028, making the ability to sign, store and access documents digitally ever more important.

Finally, because of all the benefits they bring, e-signature solutions make life simpler for the customer, partners, vendors and suppliers which make up the life support system of any business. Therefore, using an e-signature solution to get documents signed can give a business a real edge over competitors.

A deal being made electronically
Working together online

Sign Online like a Professional

When you're ready to save money and speed up your workflow by adopting an e-signature solution, SignRequest is the smart choice.

Up and running since 2014, this dynamic company comes out way ahead in comparison with the e-signature industry's best-known brand.

The Professional SignRequest membership offers users a secure and easy electronic signature solution at an affordable price. Users can send an unlimited number of documents to be signed and can even send the same document to multiple signatories at once.

Documents can be customized with a company logo and branding for a smart, professional look. And users with the Professional membership can create unlimited templates of frequently used documents so they never have to upload the same document twice.

Clever use of automation makes SignRequest Professional the ultimate hassle-free e-signature solution. Signed documents are automatically saved and stored, and documents sent out to be signed are automatically tracked. Users can also send automatic reminders to chase up documents awaiting signature.

SignRequest Professional users can see the status of all their documents by logging into their account. One quick glance is all it takes to confirm if a document has been sent, seen or signed.

Other useful features include being able to control in what order signatories sign a document and arranging for a text message alert to be sent when a particular document has been signed.

When a document has been signed, each signatory receives a copy of the signed document and a copy of the signing log. The log holds all the information that makes each contract legally binding, storing it securely so that it can be accessed if and when required.

SignRequest can also be integrated with Gmail, Slack, Zapier and Google Drive, making it even easier to sign the documents you receive. Check out the SignRequest website for the full list of Professional membership features.

Try SignRequest Professional at no risk and experience the benefits for yourself with a free 14-day trial. Visit the SignRequest website for more details.