Electronic Signatures offer the Efficiency and Security Every Legal Professional Needs
By Steven Tallant, CEO of Videosign
Before the pandemic, and before video conferencing became a daily activity, UK law opened the door to transforming the way that legal professionals interact with their clients.
In 2019, the Law Commission confirmed the legal validity of electronic signatures, offering lawyers and their clients the opportunity to embrace a new, more efficient and more secure way of confirming contracts.
In parallel, my company, Videosign, redomiciled from New Zealand to the UK with the goal of working with lawyers and other professionals who were keen to embrace this technology and forge a new way of working to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
We are aware that the pandemic has forced global industries and individuals to rethink how they conduct business. The main conclusion remains: recognise the power and efficiency of using cloud services. This will allow contracts, for example, to be signed quickly and securely.
Cloud services allow professionals to meet directly with their clients in a virtual meeting room, while providing the tools to offer a purely digital experience of collaboration, remote signing and witnessing of documentation, by using the web browser and without the need to install additional software. By effectively being able to eliminate time-consuming paper processes, whilst making convenience and compliance top priorities, using advanced tech enables the legal industry and its professionals to adapt to the demands of the modern working environment.
Through COVID-19 and beyond, where contracts must be signed, virtual witnessing and electronic signatures can enable businesses to offer a more secure and compliant way of gaining legally binding contract agreements remotely, than if they are done in person. Think of the number of times that you have been waiting for an important document in the post or struggling to find time in your diary for a face-to-face meeting for a simple signature to progress an important transaction. The most exciting moments in our lives, such as buying a home or starting a new job, can be made so much easier, faster and less stressful when the need for pen, ink, post and travel is removed. Meanwhile, routine administrative tasks like hiring a car or taking out a loan can happen more effortlessly than ever.
Through COVID-19 and beyond, where contracts must be signed, virtual witnessing and electronic signatures can enable businesses to offer a more secure and compliant way of gaining legally binding contract agreements remotely, than if they are done in person.
Virtual witnessing and electronic signatures have already been widely embraced in the financial advice sector thanks to the improved customer experience they offer. There are also use cases for this approach in healthcare, insurance, banking, funeral arrangement, will writing, conveyancing, marketing, recruitment – the list goes on.
Legal recognition for both the electronic signature and automated verification means that remote systems can be used in all circumstances, with a couple of caveats for special cases: deeds can be signed online providing the process is witnessed in person; wills still require a ‘pen and ink’ signature, but the law allows for the witnessing to take place electronically.
Convenience and compliance are what customers regard as their top priorities and we must mirror this. Using an electronic signature means legal professionals can offer a more efficient service to their clients and save time and money while being confident that they’re using a system that’s safe, secure and legally compliant.
The ability to conduct business remotely is essential in the times we’re living in, but the real reason we have invested so much effort in pushing the development of the electronic signature centres back to efficiency and security. The traditional ‘wet’ signature has been vulnerable to forgery since the invention of ink, while a properly authenticated electronic signature offers more security and confidence than ever before. The additional security offered by the digital signature is immeasurable. The bottom line is that when a sheet of paper arrives in the post, marked with a squiggle of biro, you’re taking it on trust that it has genuinely been signed by the right person.
The virtually-witnessed electronic signature takes away almost any element of doubt, and a watertight system provides incontrovertible proof that the right person has signed a document. It can be used for all electronic signatures across multiple industries and provides an extra layer of assurance by recording video evidence and using facial recognition to verify the identities of all parties. Our ability to verify identities using artificial intelligence facial profiling and linking this to a digital signature can be a game-changer for a huge number of professions and industries.
For example, users registered with Videosign upload a ‘selfie’ along with a photo of their passport or driving licence and the system checks the likeness, inspects the document for authenticity and can link to external databases for credit checks, criminal record searches and more. We are very excited about this feature as it replaces the very costly and time-consuming process of having people confirm their identities by turning up in person or sending documents through the post, plus carrying out these checks electronically is much less prone to fraud and document loss or damage.
Metadata, combined with tamper-proof documentation, video evidence and facial recognition verification adds up to the most secure way possible to agree a contract. For those in the legal profession, the benefits will be obvious, but I suspect conveyancing will be the area where the electronic signature really captures the public imagination. For many people, buying a home will be their most important interaction with the legal profession, and this technology has the potential to reduce completion times by weeks.
The announcement in July that the Land Registry will accept digital signatures is destined to transform the conveyancing sector and will seriously advantage legal practitioners who embrace this important development. Environmental sustainability is also a key driver for moving away from paper-based systems to cloud based solutions. As more organisations aim to reduce their carbon footprint and operate on ethical terms, reducing the use of paper is an obvious win. Add a significant reduction in the sheer time, cost and journey of physical mail, as all documents are shared securely and stored online.
Efficiency and security are something that is applauded by lawyers and clients alike. No more waiting for documents in the mail. No more waiting for clients to visit the office. No more delays due to incorrect completion of documentation. With professionals now able to guide their clients through lengthy and complex documents in person – we’re hearing of measurably improved performance, as simple document signings that used to take a week are being reduced to just an hour or less.
The other interesting thing about our platform is that our clients are constantly finding new ways to use it that we hadn’t previously anticipated. For instance, a client in South Africa started using the platform for signing contracts, but soon discovered it was also useful for invigilating online financial services regulatory exams and verifying the identity of candidates. That has meant that even when exam candidates are overseas, it has been possible to verify their identity and supervise them during the test – reducing the chances of cheating substantially.
I have no doubt that new uses of the technology will continue to emerge, and with the changes we’re all living through, and expectations shifting, I believe the potential of the electronic signature is only just beginning to be understood. Any company that is holding off from adapting to the new way of doing business and waiting for life to return to ‘normal’ is likely to get left behind. Although no one could have foreseen how our lives would change during 2020, I believe that the desire for the simplicity and security of the electronic signature is here to stay.
Steven Tallant, CEO of Videosign, Videosign.co