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Digital signing – what do the numbers say?

Fig 1: E-signing uptake results

In the second of my series analysing the results of the Moonstone digital engagement survey I unpack the digital signing stats which make for some interesting reading.  Digital signing has evolved extensively over the past number of years with a myriad of solutions available to the business professional.  These developments have been fuelled by various factors including:

  • The advent of email as a formal and binding business communication – it’s a letter, albeit in electronic form;
  • Legislative changes and legal precedents (Clarity on electronic signatures are even more important today) – legislators worldwide have now recognised the different forms of e-contracting and e-signing and how and where they make for appropriate replacements of traditional wet signatures;
  • Internal workflows and the need to manage, process and sign off a multitude of contracts, requests and documents – corporate sign-off platforms abound with the need to deliver ever increasing efficiencies; and, more recently,
  • The Covid pandemic – limiting physical movement and interaction and hyper-driving the need for effective digital engagement.

Survey results, however, show a very different picture.  Almost 40% of respondents indicated that they do not use any type of electronic signing solution.  With such push factors in play, why this limited uptake?  I think there are four main reasons for this resistance.

Firstly, current legislation has lagged when compared to technological advances.  The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act was promulgated a decade ago in 2011.  What was cutting edge technology then is cumbersome and unresponsive in 2021, limiting the online transactability of South Africa.  While the Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group (IFWG) has a number of initiatives that engage with both industry and stakeholders, these deal mainly with suptech (supervisory technology) and are not immediately aimed at addressing legislative deficiencies. Although the FSCA’s latest response to electronic signatures (FSCA Communication 12 of 2021 (FAIS)) does identify areas of concern such as signing documents using saved scanned signatures, FSPs must set the standard to ensure they receive documentation that not only complies with multiple levels of legislation (law of contract, ECTA and POPIA to name but a few) but also limits the potential for fraud and identity theft.

Secondly, ingrained behaviours play a major role in what we perceive as acceptable or non-acceptable, none more so that when contracting.  Great esteem is placed on the wet signature. Its use ranges from the confirmation of international peace treaties to basic lease agreements and everything in between.  Valued by companies and individuals, a wet signature is a hard act to follow.  But follow it we must.  At a fundamental level the placement of a wet signature on a document is a unique contracting action linked directly to an individual’s identity.  It says, ‘I was here and I did this’.  This action is more challenging in the digital world where formality and confirmation are reduced to zeros and ones.  There are however online solutions which allow individuals to transact using e-signatures while managing their identities and risk.

Thirdly, resistance to change will always be present when implementing new technologies and new ways of working.  Having said that, as a nation we are change fatigued if not change exhausted.  Political, socio-economic and health challenges have played havoc with our ability to adapt and respond positively to change on macro and micro levels.  We need to be aware of how this fatigue manifests and what strategies we can put in place to ensure tech levels are maintained and improved upon from a business perspective, to say nothing of how we deal with change on a personal basis.

Lastly, in certain instances, our faith in technology has also been tested.  This influencer of technology uptake is similar to change resistance but takes place on a more subtle level.  A single bad experience during a video meeting, anecdotal evidence or a lack of communication from a corporate compliance department around, for instance the legality of an e-signing platform, serve to  temper our enthusiasm for innovation.   Again, simple strategies to achieve specific outcomes allow us a more open attitude towards matters digital.

As we unpack the psychology behind the various forms of online interaction, whether signing or meeting, the very real differences between the virtual and physical worlds become apparent adding additional layers to an already complex environment.  We recognise these challenges at Moonstone and have both best practices and specific IT solutions available to support advisors, their clients, and their practices.  Again, discuss your requirements with your compliance officer or contact me at nsummers@moonstoneinfo.com.

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