Even before Covid-19 made touching things a health risk, pen and paper signatures were on the way out. There’s a digital alternative called eSignatures, and they’re infinitely easier and cheaper to use.
If you’re still signing PDF, Word or other documents in the old fashioned way in your business, this article is an absolute must-read.
We’re going to explain not only what eSignatures are and how they work, but also how you can integrate them into your corporate workflow to make your business leaner, greener, and possibly even meaner.
Oh, and before you panic, let us put your mind at ease: eSignature apps like the excellent CocoSign are completely free to use, so you can leave behind the antiquated, time-consuming, and wasteful process of printing, signing, scanning, and faxing while still reducing your overheads. Everybody wins!
What Is an eSignature?
The idea for eSignatures was born out of the search for a more convenient and efficient way of signing documents utilizing technology. When a large number of documents must be signed, eSignatures reduce costs and save time.
An eSignature, also known as electronic or online signature, is any mark, symbol, or sound attached to a digital document to show legal agreement for the terms outlined in a form, contract, or record.
Basically, it’s a signature, but electronic.
You may be surprised to learn that legislation exists around eSignatures. The ESign Act (2000) states that in order for a digital signature to be legally binding its authenticity must be independently verifiable, and the signatory’s intention to sign must be captured.
In other words, the signatory must be given the option to withhold their digital signature and decline the agreement. They must also verify their identity, all of which makes eSignatures just as secure as manual ones, if not more so.
How to eSign PDF Documents with Electronic Signature
Creating a PDF signature is straightforward if you’re using the right software. We’ll be using CocoSign as a case study, since it’s our favorite eSignature tool.
Step 1: Upload document
Navigate to the electronic signature page on CocoSign’s online platform to upload your PDF document. You can upload a file either from your local drive or from a cloud storage service such as OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.
To upload from your local device, either click on the ‘Upload Document’ tab to open up your file manager or simply drag and drop the PDF from your drive into the CocoSign dialog box.
At the bottom-right of the page is a checkbox that reads, ‘I’m the only signer’. Tick the checkbox if you are the only signer, and leave it unticked if there are multiple signatories.
Step 2: Add Signatories
This step is only necessary if there are multiple signers to the document. If you’re a solo signatory, feel free to skip ahead to Step 3.
Click ‘Next’ to proceed to the ‘Add fields’ section, from where you will be prompted to insert a signature field.
If there are multiple signatories, you must provide their names and email addresses. You’ll also have to indicate which of them must sign and which only require a copy of the document by selecting either ‘Needs to sign’ or ‘Receives a copy’ from the dropdown menu. You can also group signatories using the ‘Add Group’ icon.
Step 3: Sign Documents
Signatures can only be appended to a PDF within the signature field, so you need to create one. To do this, just drag and drop your preferred signature field tool to the page in the document that needs to be signed. The signature tools available include initials, date/time, email, and text.
You can sign in a number of different ways. You can upload a scanned image of your manual signature; draw directly in the signature field with your mouse cursor, trackpad, or touch pen; or type your name or initials.
Once you’re done signing, you can save changes to the signed document by clicking ‘Next’.
Step 4: Download or Email the Signed Document
The final step is to download the signed document to your device or share it to your email address. CocoSign also lets you share the signed PDF with the other signatories by email, using the addresses they provided in Step 2.
Although most online signing solutions support a range of file formats, including .doc, .xls, .jpg, and .png, businesses tend to prefer PDF documents because they’re more compact and stable than other formats. Plus, it’s very straightforward to include hyperlinks in PDFs, and they can be password-protected.
Types of eSignatures
According to the EU’s eIDAS regulations, eSignatures fall into three main categories: Standard Electronic Signatures (SES), Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES), and Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES). In the UK, SES are not legally binding.
Standard Electronic Signatures
SES, or basic eSignatures, can be created by simply ticking a box to indicate consent to the terms and conditions laid out by a website or app, or by scanning an image of a manual signature and attaching to a document.
This type of signature is prone to forgery, because it’s practically impossible to establish who agreed to the terms and conditions of a platform by ticking the box. Even so, SES is legally binding for B2B, B2C, and C2C transactions, as well as purchase orders, employment contracts, and even real estate documents.
Qualified Electronic Signatures
This is the most advanced way to sign a PDF online. According to eIDAS, QES can be defined as an advanced type of eSignature based on a qualified certificate. QES can only be created by a qualified signature creation device.
All QES signatures must be verified by a multistep process using double-factor authentications and encrypted keys. Before the signatories can provide a QES, their identities must be validated or verified by a third party agreed upon by them.
Advanced Electronic Signatures
These are eSignatures that make use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). For this type of signature to be legally binding it must verifiably identify, and be uniquely linked to, the individuals signing the document. In addition, it must be linkable to data in a document so that the signatories can track any modifications post-signing.
eSignatures are used in many different contexts, including in the legal profession, where they can be used for filing petitions and signing contracts, as well as various other types of form.
In addition, eSignatures are used in customer forms, sales contracts, agreements between suppliers and vendors, and for identity authentication in VPN, email protection, online banking issuing invoices, and submitting appeals and applications.
How to Choose an eSignature Service for Signing PDFs
There’s a growing number of eSignature solutions to choose from, and it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish between them or choose which one to integrate into your business workflow. The following criteria should help you decide what’s likely to be best for you and your business.
Ease of use
A well-designed platform should be simple, intuitive, and easy to use – even for a novice. If a service makes you struggle with basic stuff like installing software, using plugins, and logging in then you know it’s probably not the one for you.
If an eSignature platform’s signatures aren’t legally binding in accordance with the ESign Act and eIDAS, move swiftly on. At the very minimum, you need a professional, robustly compliant service like CocoSign.
When signing online, you need to know that the contents of your document are safe from the prying eyes of malicious attackers. Again, an established signer like CocoSign is the safest option.
All connections made through this platform go through secure 256-bit SSL encryption. It’s PDI DSS-certified also, too, guaranteeing that your data is safe in transit, and that your signature cannot be replicated and used elsewhere for transactions you do not endorse.
In industries like insurance and financial services, there are certain regulations that must be met. It’s crucial that you pick an eSignature platform that’s compliant with the rules governing your activity.
To enjoy the benefits of using free eSignature platforms like CocoSign, you must be able to seamlessly integrate it into your CRM systems and the collaboration tools unique to your business.
Progressive, efficiency-motivated companies are striving for a paperless future, and using an online signing solution is a huge stride in the right direction. With eSignature platforms like CocoSign you can batch sign PDF documents, store them on the cloud, and create a signing template, saving time, money, and even the planet.
That can’t be bad.