Electronic signatures in South Africa are approved under The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA) instituted in 2002.
The South African law adheres to the EU Directive on electronic signatures. Any company operating in the South African market can use eSignatures as a signing method, and they are treated equally as handwritten signatures.
It's a mechanism to guarantee the integrity of an electronic document and to authenticate the author. The electronic signature can’t be canceled or reproduced on another document and is impossible to counterfeit. Since 1 July 2016 – the date the eIDAS Regulation (electronic identification and trust services) became law – its minimum legal value is the same throughout the European Union. This regulation specifies in particular that the qualified electronic signature has the same status and the same legal effects as its handwritten equivalent.
It's no surprise that digital signatures are becoming increasingly indispensable in the various commercial exchanges within the banking and insurance, retail, human resources and real estate sectors.
From our work with implementing electronic signatures here at CM.com, we've compiled a list of the top 4 problems solved by electronic signatures.
1 - More efficient use of time
Compared to traditional signatures, the electronic signature saves a lot of time since it's possible to send a document to be signed by several signees in just a few clicks.
In many sectors, such as banking and insurance, the electronic signature makes it possible to conclude sales outside of business hours or to subscribe to online offers 24/7.
An electronic contract will always be ready to be signed in seconds, which also shortens file processing time. A customer or a partner can sign a document via any device (mobile phone, tablet, PC, etc.) without having to go back to the office or pick up a scanner to be able to send it. This approach makes electronic signing vastly superior to traditional signature methods.
In the human resources sector, e-signing makes it possible to sign a work contract quickly and multiple documents can be signed and returned quickly and efficiently.
2 - Lower costs
According to a study conducted by CM.com, the electronic signature would reduce operating costs of £61,672 in a year or so if it is used via the Web application or £67,870 through the integration of the API (based on 500 signed documents per month and two signatories per document). Indeed, the paper management of contracts and documents to be signed is more expensive compared to the e-signature (in terms of travel, shipping costs, use of paper, etc.).
3 - Follow the progress of files
The electronic signature makes it possible to follow the progress of files in real-time. Thanks to a digital certificate, it's possible to trace each modification or action performed on the original document.
The tracking tool integrated with most electronic signature solutions can also trace the progress of signatures and send an automatic reminder to recipients who haven't signed the document. This tool informs everyone involved where each document is in the signature loop.
4 - Secure access and identity of the signatory
It is possible to choose a level of security adapted to specific needs and to set up one of the three degrees of reliability of the electronic signature. According to the eIDAS regulation, the use of electronic signature provides three levels of security: standard (a checkbox), advanced (the identity of the signatory is linked to the signature) and qualified (each signatory must first identify with a trusted service provider).
Indeed, the mere fact of filling a box, putting your name or "agreement" on a website is considered an electronic signature. The great advantage of the standard signature is that it remains very accessible to the signatory. The issue is that this type of signature is easily counterfeited.
On the other hand, advanced and qualified e-signatures have a higher legal value and can be used for high-value and high-risk agreements – the transfer of ownership of real estate, for example. These categories of signatures make it possible to guarantee the identity of the signatory while conforming to the European regulation on the protection of data (GDPR), which aims at greater transparency and responsibility when it comes to the sharing of personal data.
According to eIDAS (2016), all EU member states are required to follow the same e-signature standards. It should be noted that in some countries, such as Belgium and Estonia, citizens have identity cards with electronic signature certificates, but this isn't the case in the UK. It's possible to create a signature certificate and a signature via any device with electronic signature solutions in SaaS mode.
To summarise, the digitalisation of services and processes is helping to accelerate trade in South Africa in many sectors. On a daily basis, the electronic signature facilitates interactions between companies, individuals and public organisations. Being able to choose the level of security appropriate to the needs of companies also allows us to rethink and modernise the way information and documents are accessed, managed and secured within organisations.