Electronic signature: what is it, which one to choose and how does it work?

25 March 2022

Updated 08 July 2022

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Advanced electronic signature has undoubtedly positioned itself as the most widespread and versatile digital signature method in terms of electronic signature. Small businesses, large companies, professionals and institutions have adopted the use of electronic signatures as an essential tool to carry out their activities.

The new dynamics and ways of being in the different markets and sectors have caused businesses to adapt to be accessible and agile while complying with the norms that set the standards required in any contracting process.

From human resources departments to the most recurrent commercial operations, both in B2C and B2B environments, make use of electronic signatures to manage their product and service contracting cycles, the closing of agreements, certified communications or the acceptance of conditions.

However, there are still many businesses and institutions that manage these types of activities without using electronic signatures. This entails a number of significant legal compliance risks as well as high costs in terms of time and resources.

Electronic signature: definition and approach to the concept

Although the digital signature is already a widespread reality and embraced by all types of businesses and institutions, many professionals are still wondering what the electronic signature is for and how to use it. There are dozens of cases of the use of electronic signatures, being one of the most demanded technologies nowadays.

The concept of electronic signature is used to refer to a legal concept. Like the handwritten signature, the purpose of this is the acceptance and legitimization of the content of a document, in this case, digitized. It can be done both in-person and remotely and provides electronic evidence of the signatory's identity and contractual relations.

Therefore, we can state that the electronic signature is a digital method in which a subject accepts and agrees to comply with the content of a document stored in an electronic medium.

A signatory performs a series of operations in which is stamped not only a trace that identifies him, but also other factors that can identify him beyond an easily forgeable graphic. In this sense, the electronic signature is able to provide more evidence and security to any contracting or acceptance process. 

In the same way, the digitalization of the signature process brings with it a series of notable benefits such as savings in materials (paper, ink, printers and storage space). This avoids the loss of documents and their illegitimate modification and speeds up the work of the employees in charge of document management, completely automating the process.

What is an advanced electronic signature?

The advanced electronic signature is one of the methods for the exercise of digital signatures, together with the simple and qualified electronic signature. Both three electronic signature standards are included in eIDAS, the European electronic identity recognition system that is a reference worldwide.

For an electronic signature to be considered advanced, it must meet at least a series of very specific requirements:

  • The linking of the identity of the signatory and the electronic document must be uniquely and untransferable sealed.
  • This identity data must enable the signatory to be unequivocally identified.
  • The signature must be created with data that only the signatory can use and that are under his/her exclusive control.
  • The modification of both the identification data and the contents of the document and its possible annexes must be prevented by the sealing method.
  • In the case of a modification, it must be recorded with full electronic evidence.

As can be seen, the characteristics for a digital signature to be considered as an advanced electronic signature give it a very high level of security and legitimacy. That is why the advanced electronic signature has become the most widely used and recognized standard for, for example, contracting processes of all kinds.

Its verification capacity is such that the advanced electronic signature is admissible as evidence in any trial, without any doubt. Unlike the traditional handwritten signature, for which detrimental motives could be argued, the electronic signature has absolute backing and absolute validity.

Simple, advanced and qualified electronic signature: differences and similarities

As we have been analyzing, the advanced electronic signature is one of the three main digital signature standards defined in the eIDAS regulations. Although this is the most widespread, as it provides agility and high-level technical and regulatory support, there are two other types that are useful in certain cases of use:

  • Simple Electronic Signature: The main difference with respect to the advanced standard is focused on the way of identifying the signer. In the simple signature, there is no need to create an advanced user identification pattern. Simply linking the signature graphic to the document in a simple way is enough. These are data in an electronic format that are logically associated for signing.
  • Qualified Electronic Signature: This signature standard must comply with all the requirements that are demanded the advanced one. The only difference lies in the method of creation of the signed document, which must be a qualified device based on qualified certificates.

The simple electronic signature is still secure and valid, but it is more suitable for low-risk processes that do not involve sensitive operations. It is quick and simple and consists of checking a checkbox or entering a pin code. Use cases such as the acceptance of terms and conditions of a website or the use of a platform as well as the signing of employees at the end of the month stand out.

Qualified electronic signatures are usually limited to procedures related to public administrations, such as the tax agency or other transactions with social security. Its complexity does not make it viable in B2B and B2C environments, relegating it to public use.

Biometrics and KYC in e-Signatures

After this analysis, we have been able to verify that there is an electronic signature solution designed for different needs and use cases. It might seem that advanced e-signatures are a step below qualified e-signatures, but this has changed dramatically with digital signature solutions that include identity verification with biometrics and KYC processes.

The advanced electronic signature requires the creation of signatory identification data that can be more or less exhaustive in terms of reliability. Therefore, for more demanding use cases the combination of the well-known Know Your Customer (KYC) process together with the advanced electronic signature is the solution.

Thus, there are three types of advanced electronic signature in order of level of completeness: advanced electronic signature, advanced biometric signature and advanced signature with KYC. In the first, the identification data is obtained by means of traditional non-biometric controls, such as the DNI, data known only to the individual or telephone verification.

In advanced biometric signature, identity data is obtained from sources inherent to the signing subject. Facial biometrics is undoubtedly the most reliable and secure method of doing this. The best solutions perform a live check so that the process is foolproof and completely removed from fraud attempts.

The advanced electronic signature with KYC goes one step further by adjusting to the strictest regulations to close processes of any level of risk that would take days or weeks in minutes thanks to its great support. All under one and the same procedure, with no additional complexity.

The role of the digital signature in the customer journey 

Boost your operations with Electronic Signature

It is worth noting that despite the apparent complexity of all these methods, the best-advanced e-signature solutions are able to create a simple platform that guides the user through the steps of the frictionless signature process that only requires less than 3 minutes from the user.

Successfully integrating the signature process into a company's customer journey means not losing a single customer because they abandon the process because it is tedious. It is possible to create a robust and supported advanced electronic signature process while reducing time and bureaucracy.

Applications and use of advanced electronic signatures

Advanced electronic signatures are enabling companies to close crucial transactions such as the examples below in minutes:

Thanks to the implementation of digital signatures in decisive operations for companies in all sectors, both for sales and commercial purposes and in internal processes, companies can reduce costs, shorten times and generate trust. Similarly, regulatory compliance and support against fraud and risk management is no longer a problem.

Automating and digitizing an already obsolete process so that users can decide to hire both remotely and in an agile way and without risk of loss in physical locations is the key for today's businesses to be sustainable and scalable.

Managing the complete contracting cycle with Tecalis e-Signatures

The best e-signature solutions should not only provide an agile and simple method of closing deals and transactions. If companies require it, they should be a comprehensive platform for managing the negotiation and contracting cycle

Like collaborative work services similar to what document creation and editing tools offer, electronic signature platforms should be able to be a space where signatories can edit, comment and work on the signing of the agreement, adding attachments, asking questions or making any conceivable change.

All this activity must be duly recorded and sealed after the signature in an audit report that provides superior validity to the entire signing and negotiation or contracting process.

These platforms must be easily integrated and allow companies to choose whether they want to use it through APIs by integrating it into their systems or opt for a powerful proprietary tool with an interface designed so that any employee and user can use it with ease.

Manage the whole contracting cycle error-free and frictionless

Advanced Electronic Signature and eIDAS (Regulation 910/2014).

eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) is the European directive that is responsible for collecting and recognizing all the uses and requirements for the use of electronic signatures.

The concepts of simple, advanced and qualified electronic signature that we have seen above are defined by this standard. eIDAS is not just another regional standard, as this international regulation is the basis for many other electronic signature regulations beyond Europe.

Its pioneering spirit and the depth of its development have made it the standard of reference for the practice of electronic signatures. eIDAS 2 is the second update proposed by the European Commission to deepen digital identity and will continue to give even greater support to digital signature solutions that comply with its standards.

Electronic Signature Regulations around the world

While complying with eIDAS means complying with the most stringent electronic signature regulations not only in all European countries but also worldwide, regional rules governing the exercise of digital signatures must always be considered.

In most countries there are no signature regulations, so complying with the standards proposed by eIDAS is an insurance against possible incidents that could take a contract to court. In the absence of such regulations, judges tend to give greater validity to an electronic signature with complete and demonstrable electronic evidence in court than to a simple handwritten signature on a physical document.

Outside Europe, the use of common law by American countries stands out, including the United States and Canada as well as the Latin American region (specifically Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru). They have regulations that recognize the legal value of both electronic signatures in their territory and foreign electronic signatures, so the use of these solutions throughout the world is guaranteed.

In the United States, we must turn to the ESIGN regulation of the year 2000, since it admits electronic signatures as legally binding, and in Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act does so.

To operate in Mexico, for example, we must consult Article 1803 of its Federal Civil Code, while in Spain, a European Union country, it is the LSSI with its Article 23 that ratifies everything contained in eIDAS with additional considerations in Article 299.2 of the Civil Procedure Act.

Australia has had rules on electronic signatures since 1999 with its Electronic Transactions Act and in New Zealand, with a law of the same name, it was recognized just one year later.

China has a specific law on electronic signatures, and as for the rest of Asia, electronic signatures are fully legal in countries such as Japan and South Korea, to name but a few.

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