What is a signature? If you asked that question 50 years ago, you’d probably get the same answer.
However, ink on paper is not the only way to authorize a document or transaction. As technology evolved, we adopted new, more efficient ways of signing contracts and agreements.
Different organizations have their rules and preferences. You may be asked to sign the back of a credit card, while elsewhere you can use a signature pad. Sometimes just typing your name and agreeing to terms is enough.
So what is a wet signature? Are electronic signatures valid in court?
We better explain this before the ink dries.
What is a wet signature?
A wet signature is a physical mark that a person makes on a document. In most cultures, people traditionally sign documents by writing a name in stylized handwriting. Throughout history, many cultures have used seals and signet rings to the same effect. In both cases, the word “wet” implies that ink or wax needs time to dry.
Yet, a wet signature doesn’t have to be a person’s name. According to the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code, a signature can be made manually or by means of a device or machine and by the use of any name, including a trade or assumed name, by a word, mark, or symbol.
This means that a wet signature doesn’t have to be your name, and you don’t even have to make it with an ink pen. Marks made on a piece of paper with a stamp, personal seal or name seal also count. Typed names, even unreadable lines of cursive or a pair of initials can also legally be considered a wet signature.
What is an electronic signature?
An electronic signature refers to the authorization of an electronic message, transaction, or document. An electronic signature can come in a form of:
- A typed name (and title) and the end of an email.
- A typed name on an electronic form or document.
- An image of a wet signature on transmitted fax.
- A personal identification number (PIN) such as entered on a bank ATM.
- A handwritten but digitally captured signature made on a touch screen device, such as a tablet, smartphone, or a signature pad.
But are those electronic signatures legal? They seem a long way from personal handwritten endorsements.
In 1999, the European Union adopted the directive 1999/93/EC that ensures that electronic signatures are not to be denied legal effectiveness and admissions in the member states.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) making electronic signatures recognized and legal in every U.S. state and territory.
Since then, electronic signatures have become more common internationally and now most countries recognize them as a standard way to authenticate business documents.
According to a report from Lunarpen, organizations that adopted electronic signatures have seen an 80% improvement in production.
Speeding up the workflows and improving productivity is one of the basic tenets of Better Proposal software. This is why we include electronic signatures in all our proposals and contracts.
There’s no need for your clients to download and sign them manually.
The whole process is very simple:
- Choose between the “Sign by Typing” and “Sign by Drawing” tabs
- Draw or type your name below
- Click accept
And that’s it. You’ve signed a proposal.
If challenged in court, every electronically signed document that is created using Better Proposals can be authenticated by recording:
- The time and date when the signature was provided,
- The IP address of the signatory, and
- The email address that the signatory used to provide the electronic signature.
We take these precautions to provide our clients means to defend their electronically signed contracts against legal challenges.
When should you use a wet signature?
The use of wet or electronic signatures is a matter of agreement between the involved parties. Since the ESIGN went into effect, electronic signatures have had the same legal status as wet signatures.
However, some organizations and individuals may still prefer handwritten signatures.
There are a few occasions when you must have a wet signature to make a document legally binding. A wet signature may be required when a Notary Public needs to verify the identification of the document signers.
Wet signatures are also required for documents related to wills, trusts, land registry, revenues and customs documents, divorce proceedings, and other documents that require witness attestation.
The ESIGN act allows parties to use or accept wet signatures even if the document in question is electronic. In short, it’s up to each organization to create its own signature policy.
Downsides of wet signatures
Businesses that still require wet signatures face several challenges:
- Longer turnaround time: Electronic signatures reduce turnaround time by an average of nine days. You can send electronic documents to your clients and have them received, reviewed, signed, and returned on any device 24/7. When insisting on wet signatures, you have to take into account the delivery services, couriers, business days, and holiday schedules.
- Higher cost: We’re not talking just about the cost of the ink and paper and the overnight courier service. What about the cost of lost revenue when it takes more than a week to receive a signed contract? And you know what’s even worse than that? All that delay can give your prospect time to entertain offers sent by your competitors.
This is why we believe that speed is essential in making any proposal. With Better Proposals, your potential client can sign the proposal instantly and move to more pressing matters. They too have a business to run.
- The human factor: The question is whether the recipient will be eager to sign your document when they receive it, even if there’s a delay. They may run into a problem of their own, such as not being able to print it or reach the courier before the weekend. On the other hand, they’ll very likely appreciate the speed and ease of signing an electronic document in three steps.
- Record keeping: You need to scan and file away any document that clients sign and return with a wet signature. If for any reason, you or the signer needs to refer to the physical document in the future, it takes longer to retrieve it from filing cabinets or worse, storage boxes than to pull it from your computer.
- Social responsibility: Companies that use 100% electronic documentation help save the forests as well.
A company that develops e-signature technology, found out that since 2003, their customers have saved 20 billion sheets of paper and 2.5 billion gallons of water needed to make that paper.
This reduction of physical paper use helped save 2.5 million trees and 2 billion pounds of CO2 – as a result of the introduction of electronic signatures.
Can I speed up the collection of wet signatures?
As we’ve just seen, wet signatures are not as easy to obtain as electronic signatures. However, there are tools like Adobe Acrobat Sign that speed up the process. So how does this work?
- You send a document to a signer.
- The signer downloads the document and signs it physically.
- They scan the document back into a digital form using a smartphone.
- The signer uploads the file and sends it back to you.
Electronic signatures vs. digitally native signatures
Many people use the terms electronic and digital signatures interchangeably but these two are not the same.
Digitally native signatures are a type of electronic signature but instead of you typing or drawing your name on a touchscreen, you can sign a document simply by clicking a button.
Digital signatures contain a unique feature that is in a digital form, like a virtual fingerprint that is embedded in a document. The signer must have a digital certificate to link the digital signature to a document.
A digital certificate is also used to validate the document to make sure it has not been forged.
This way, when you apply a digital signature to a document, the digital certificate merges with the data being signed into one unique fingerprint. Those two components of the digital signature are unique and this makes it more viable than wet signatures since its origins can be authenticated.
This cryptographic operation has three functions:
- Prove the authenticity and source of the document
- Make sure no party has tampered with the document
- Identify the person who signs it
When your business uses digital signature software, you collect data that ties the person who accepted the contract to that specific version of the agreement.
While both electronic and digitally native signatures enable a quick and secure contract process, digital signatures have a few extra benefits:
Reduced risk: The risk is more manageable with digitally native signatures. Especially if you use a dedicated digital contracting platform that stores all your signatures in a searchable, centralized database.
Better for large scale: Digitally native signatures are better for low-value, high-volume contracts, allowing legal teams to create standard terms that plug into the document depending on who is signing it.
Frictionless experience: Digitally native signatures streamline a purchase experience for buyers, for example reducing the chance to abandon their purchase. They also provide much better security than traditional electronic signatures.
Many business processes require signatures for contracts, invoices, and even financial loans. Wet signatures used to be a golden standard of authorization and trust, but in today’s fast-paced business environments, handwritten signatures slow processes down because they depend on physical paper.
The electronic signatures we use in Better Proposals templates, provide a much faster way to sign an agreement anywhere and on any device. These signatures contain the essential signer data, making them trackable and legally binding. Just like the good old ink on paper.
Sign up for a free 14-day trial and see how easy it is to get your proposals signed when you use our templates.