Electronic signatures: a smart business solution


27 April 2020

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are experiencing unprecedented logistical and operational challenges. The impact is all-pervasive, affecting all aspects of commercial operations including those concerning governance, documentation and contract execution. Resorting to the use of electronic signatures can certainly facilitate businesses in appropriately documenting adherence to internal governance procedures as well as the execution of contracts with third parties, as required for transaction formalisation and documentation. This is done by creating a safe and secure system wherein resolutions, contracts and other documents can be easily and effectively signed by persons operating remotely from one another.

Deloitte is working with clients across all sectors of the economy to redefine and implement systems and processes capable of accommodating the new realities businesses are facing as a result of COVID-19. Where relevant, these systems and processes may be supported by legally recognised forms of electronic signatures as a tool to enhance the business’s ability to operate and function.

Through the introduction of the eIDAS Regulation, all contracts may generally nowadays be executed, saving certain specific exceptions, via electronic signature. There are essentially three recognised forms of electronic signature, which can lawfully be used to electronically execute a contract:

  1. An electronic signature, which covers a wide range of electronic signatures which the signatory may apply to a document. Very broadly, this may be defined as any data in electronic form which is attached to (or logically associated with) other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign. For example, an electronic signature may include a scanned signature image which is appended to a document, or the simple clicking of an “I accept” box.
  2. An advanced electronic signature, which refers to electronic signatures which are:
    • Uniquely linked to the signatory;
    • Capable of identifying the signatory;
    • Created using electronic signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under his sole control; and
    • Linked to the data signed in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.
  3. A qualified electronic signature, which is a specific type of electronic signature which must meet advanced technical requirements and be backed by a qualified certificate issued by an accredited provider.

While all contracts can generally be executed by electronic signature, contracts which cannot be signed electronically are contracts for the creation or transfer of rights over immovable property (other than contracts of lease), contracts in relation to taxation, and contracts in relation to information services covered by data protection law.

The use of electronic signatures and their integration into business systems and processes provides a viable alternative to handwritten signatures. Electronic signatures are generally vested with valid legal standing and are admissible as evidence in legal proceedings. Qualified electronic signatures, in particular, being lawfully treated as equivalent to a handwritten signature. Any integration must of course be designed around an appropriate technology platform so as to ensure that the electronic signature used is suitable for the intended purposes to which it is deployed. Where appropriately designed and deployed, electronic signatures may provide a robust framework wherein most contracts and other documents may be reliably executed electronically and may actually provide enhanced functionality and resilience, compared to traditional systems and processes which are dependent on the physical execution of contracts and other documents.

How can we help?

Should you be interested to learn more about the use and implementation of electronic signatures in your business, our team at Deloitte Consulting is well positioned to assist you to assess the extent to which the use of electronic signatures may be suitable for use in your business. By understanding your existing processes, an appropriate technology platform can be identified, designed and implemented to ensure that electronic signatures are used in a manner which is suitable for the intended purposes for which they are deployed, whilst improving operational efficiency.  

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