Is it time to sign along the digital dotted line?

When it comes to electronic signatures, we know that a number of letting agents have taken the plunge, while others are still undecided, mainly due to legal concerns and security.

Eye had a question and answer session with Ken Moyle, chief legal officer at one of the eSignature providers, DocuSign. We hope this may prove helpful, but clearly Mr Moyle has a commercial interest, so do make your own inquiries and take your own legal advice.

Q. Is the property market nervous about electronic signatures?

Yes. Let’s face it, we’re creatures of habit. We’re all wary of trying new things at some point even when we can see the benefits. Since 2003 one of the biggest challenges we have had has been convincing the world that electronic signatures make sense for business, especially in areas such as the property market where trust is key.

Q. So what exactly are electronic signatures?

Just like a traditional wet signature, in commerce and under the law an electronic signature is used by a signer to show they agree with the intentions laid out in a contract.

By this simplified definition alone it’s already possible to imagine some of the uses for eSignatures for letting agents, including;

  • Landlord contracts
  • Tenancy agreements
  • Terms of Business
  • References
  • Inventories

Q. What are the advantages?

Speed and the use of mobile devices! Just as we’ve essentially replaced fax with email and analogue TV with a higher quality digital alternative, eSignature allows us to keep our contracts digital and speed up the entire contracting process. It replaces flipping through stacks of paperwork with quick any-time anywhere signing, on any internet-enabled device.

With Juniper Research predicting there will be more than a billion BYOD (bring your own devices) by 2018, the use of mobile devices is on the rise in business, and undoubtedly this will continue. Replacing traditional wet ink signatures with electronic signatures can speed up return times, reduce errors and mistakes, and decrease negative environmental impact.

Q. So are eSignatures legal? Will they stand up in a court of law?

Initially, there were a lot of reservations about eSignatures being used by the UK’s letting agents, including the whole question of legality.

If the situation arises that a letting agent has to take a tenant to court, will an electronic signature stand up? This is a hot topic and we are often involved in discussions about whether letting agents can use an electronic signature as proof of a legal agreement.

The answer I would give is undoubtedly yes. Electronic signatures are not only admissible as evidence, but the fact that all of the circumstances around the signing ceremony can be verified independently means that, in my view, almost any electronic form of signature has higher authentication criteria than regular handwritten signatures.

In addition to common law recognition of electronic signatures, the UK Electronic Communication Act of 2000 makes it clear that legally required “writings” can be signed electronically and retain their legal effect.

Q. What about security?

The security of an eSignature is undoubtedly a concern felt by some agents.

With a paper contract, you have a physical item to carry and keep safe. With a digital document the data may be stored locally or in the cloud with no physical assertion of ownership.

My opinion is that eSignature solutions are safer. Advanced encryption methods and a range of authentication options ensure that document integrity is not compromised.

Every eSignature provider has some level of security included in their solution. For example, at my own company we have three geo-dispersed, SSAE 16 audited datacentres with 24/7 security, near real-time secure data replication and encrypted archives, and have been been certified to ISO 27001:2005 international security standards.

Q. Are there real-life examples of lettings agents use eSignatures you can talk about?

I can certainly mention Romans, the 19-branch network of estate agents in Berkshire, north Hampshire and Surrey. After investigating paperless solutions, Romans worked with DocuSign to implement eSignatures in its lettings department. Romans found eSignatures particularly useful for transactions with clients abroad. Internally, other departments across Romans then started asking when they would be able to use eSignature technology.

I honestly believe electronic signatures can undoubtedly play a part in your success.

Pictured: Ken Moyle, chief legal officer at DocuSign

Ken Moyle eSigs lowres

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5 Comments

  1. MF

    My firm looked into eSignatures with DocuSign a few years ago. It all looked good but unfortunately their pricing model required a minimum payment per year that was far more expensive than what we currently spend with Royal Mail. It seemed they only wanted the “bigger” clients.

    Maybe that has changed now, I haven’t checked back since.

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  2. johnb

    Well done, Ros ! This is really useful information and I do like the fact that you caution “so do make your own inquiries and take your own legal advice”. Not just another paid-for advertorial !!
    It is great to get the Eye newsletter first thing every morning. I find the stories very readable and thought-provoking.

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  3. lawsathome

    Great article – and similar to one we've just placed in ICM magazine for a different industry. We are still educating business even though the principle has been in action for over 14 years. No doubt Docusign and Echosign are market leaders particularly in US, yet as you say MF there is limited flexibility on price structure with the big boys for SME's; so worth exploring the younger and UK based businesses that are out there like Signable among others.

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  4. phillel2000

    Great Article. I am one of Sales Team for DocuSign in the UK. I just wanted to add a few points to the article. Firstly, over the last few years we have seen a great take up amongst agents of all sizes. From single branch agencies, to multi branch agents and the national chains. We have pricing plans that can support businesses of all sizes. DocuSign warrant against the UK 2000 Electronic Communications Act and have a strong interest and presence in the property space globally. We are also exhibiting for the 3rd consecutive year at the ARLA conference at the end of the month. Please come by our stand to find out more. Alternatively, please do not hesitate to contact the team on emea@docusign.com to find out more.

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  5. PerlieS

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