RSM South Africa

Electronic signatures

In the spirit of environmental-friendliness and embracing technology, RSM South Africa is in the process of replacing our paper-based signing process with electronic signatures.

If you have ever clicked in a box to accept “terms and conditions”, or even responded to an email, you have already used a form of electronic signature.   In South Africa, electronic signatures have the same legal standing as handwritten signatures, if they meet certain criteria of technical reliability.  The specific criteria vary depending on the use of the electronic signature.

On a basic level, a signature is just a mark, normally the person’s name, that a person makes on a document to confirm their identity and that they agree with the contents, confirm the contents, etc.

Three basic categories of electronic signatures are generally found:

Click-to-sign

This is referred to above and may be in the form of checkboxes on a website or in an application, a cut and paste of a scanned signature, a typed name, or many other formats.  Although these signatures are as legal as paper signatures, they may be more difficult to rely on as evidence because it’s difficult to prove, for example, who “ticked” the box. 

e-Signatures

Software or websites apply e-signatures where there is some sort of validation of the user by creating an account and encrypting the signature.  The signature is timestamped, and the document is protected from subsequent changes, but the identity of the signer is not verifiable directly from the document.

Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES)

When an AES is used, the user’s identity (which has been verified by an accredited agency) is linked to the signed document in such a way that anyone with basic software can verify the signature.

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 25 of 2002 (the ECT Act) regulates all forms of electronic communications in South Africa.  The general rule is that an electronic signature is legally valid but, where an act requires the signature that requirement will only be met if an AES is used. An electronic copy of a document may also be considered an original, as long as certain requirements regarding the technology are met.

For a signature to be recognised as an AES, an accredited agent must authenticate it.  In South Africa, there are presently only two accredited agencies, one of which is LAWtrust.  RSM South Africa director signatures have been authenticated by LAWtrust and are applied using SigningHub technology.  The technology is in the cloud, offering a completely secure mechanism for sending and receiving sensitive documents, with a full audit trail and proof of delivery.  

Conclusion

Electronic signing is efficient and legally acceptable, offering several benefits, including:

  • Increased efficiency by getting documents signed off by various parties in different locations in minutes.  Multiple parties can sign one document as part of a workflow process.
  • Trusted security because any changes made after the document is signed are detected immediately with complete transparency.
  • Savings on paper and printing costs, while providing an environmentally friendly alternative.
  • The technology is very easy to use with a clean user interface, even on portable devices.
  • SigningHub uses standards-based PKI digital signature techniques, meaning that anyone using any pdf reader can verify signatures.