The 7 most frequently asked questions about the electronic signature

The electronic signature is increasingly gaining ground, particularly in the business world and especially in these times of working from home. More and more people are consequently familiar with the concept, how it works and the advantages it holds in store. That said, we at SignHere are still receiving questions about this subject every day. We have selected the seven most frequently asked questions for our blog.

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1. What is an electronic signature?

An electronic signature enables you to sign electronic documents or files in a legally valid manner. Not all electronic signatures are the same, however. Some variants are little more than a digitized signature (e.g. a simple scan or photo of a handwritten signature). Others are the full-fledged equivalent of a handwritten signature. They comply with the strictest laws and regulations and guarantee the highest levels of security. SignHere offers only the latter category of signatures.

2. What variants of electronic signature are available?

The European eIDAS Regulation (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) creates a legal framework for the use of electronic signatures. The EU draws a distinction therein between three variants with varying levels of security, the degree to which they guarantee the integrity of the documents, and their capability of identifying the signer.

The lowest threshold variant is the simple electronic signature, e.g. the signature at the bottom of an e-mail or a scan of a handwritten signature. This variant provides less certainty about the real identity of the signer and less guarantee as to the integrity of the signed documents.

SignHere offers only legally binding electronic signatures, such as the Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) and the Qualified Electronic Signature (QES). The latter provides the highest level of security immediately and is legally irrefutable and therefore equivalent to a manual signature. The integrity of the document as well as the identity of the person are established beyond any doubt.

The advanced electronic signature also guarantees the integrity of the document while conferring a certain legal probative force. It does not however automatically constitute a legally valid alternative to a handwritten signature.

It ultimately all boils down to striking the right balance between ease of use and level of risk when choosing the most suitable variant. In any event, a qualified electronic signature is recommended for documents with a high level of risk.

3. Are there specific types of documents that cannot be signed electronically?

Most documents that are relevant for asset management can be signed electronically. However, cadastral documents, permanent powers of attorney and wills, for example, are often still considered unsuitable for electronic signing.

A lot depends on local regulations. Employment contracts, for instance, often require a qualified signature in some EU countries, and finally there are differences per sector at times.

4. Do I need additional hardware or software to sign documents electronically?

All you need in order to affix an advanced electronic signature is a mouse or touchpad. To create a qualified signature, you will also need qualified hardware, such as a smart card reader. A well-known example is the Belgian eID reader which can be used to sign a document with your eID.

A document can usually be sent or received by e-mail with a hyperlink. You can then open such a hyperlink with a simple browser available in any standard desktop or mobile device.  A small extension is added to the driver for first-time use. No drivers or updates are installed. The installation of SignHere on the device is not required either.

5. How do you transmit documents to be signed electronically?

To enable someone to sign a document electronically, you must provide that person with a unique link to that end. As soon as the recipient clicks on it, a session will open in his or her browser and he or she can proceed to create an electronic signature.

There are several ways to guide that signer to his or her unique link. The link can be sent to him or her via e-mail, for instance, preferably in the form of a handy, attractive HTML button. Another option is to direct the signer to your company or customer portal and present the link as a signature button.

6. Do all parties involved have to sign electronically if a person uses an electronic signature?

That is not a strict requirement, but we strongly recommend it nonetheless. For if all parties involved sign a document electronically, it is far easier to digitize and automate entire document flows so as to improve your internal processes in the end.

7. What impact has the coronavirus crisis had on the acceptance of the electronic signature?

Our experience has shown that the monthly use of electronic signatures has increased significantly. When organizations were more or less forced to work remotely, electronic signing became the new normal for many of them. Furthermore, most organizations do not consider this change to be a temporary trend: digitization has been structurally accelerated.

Some organizations have nonetheless resorted to a stopgap solution and continue to this day to rely on seemingly simpler methods such as scanning and e-mailing handwritten signatures.  From a technical perspective they may well get an electronic signature technically, but one that is very weak from a security as well as a regulatory perspective. It would be far better to opt for structural measures – an approach that is both safer and future-proof.


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