Q. We're ready to replace our paper-based contracts with electronically signed contracts. How should we get started?
A. There are many viable electronic signature products in the marketplace. As an example, let's walk through how to get started with DocuSign, the industry's market leader. To start using DocuSign, visit DocuSign.com, click Free Trial, enter your contact information, and then click Get Started to generate an email message enabling you to activate your account. Once your account is activated, follow these instructions:
1. Upload files. In the Add Documents screen, upload the document(s) to be electronically signed (such as a customer contract saved as a .pdf or .docx file) to your cloud-based DocuSign storage account by clicking the Upload button and navigating to and selecting the desired document(s), and then pressing Next.
2. Indicate recipients. In the Add Recipients screen that follows (see the screenshot below), enter the name and email address of the intended recipient(s), and then press Next.
3. Add electronic data fields. Each document to be signed is then opened and displayed on your screen so that you can add electronic fields. For example, as suggested by the red arrow in the screenshot below, I have dragged and dropped the Signature field into the signature block area of the document. (Sixteen types of electronic fields can be added to the document as follows: Signature, Initial, Date Signed, Name, Email, Company, Title, Text, Checkbox, Dropdown, Radio, Formula, Attachment, Note, Approve, and Decline.) Once you have added all the desired fields to the document, click Next.
4. Review and send. In the Review and Send screen (see the screenshot below), enter an email subject and message and press the Send button.
5. Recipient's actions. Upon receiving the DocuSign-enabled contract, the recipient will need to open the document, select the Sign button, enter their name as they want it displayed in the signature field, and then accept the signature as suggested in the screenshots below.
As of September 2019, DocuSign offerred a 30-day free trial; thereafter, the solution is priced at $10 per month for a single user, $25 per month for multiple users, and $40 per month for multiple users with electronic payment collection capabilities.
Legally binding. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, P.L. 106-229, (enacted by Congress on June 30, 2000) purportedly makes electronic signatures legally binding and enforceable in a U.S. court of law, but you should consult your attorney to make sure your specific use of digital signatures meets all legal requirements.
Safety concerns. DocuSign says its digital signatures are safe because the company's procedures authenticate all signers according to their email addresses. Technically, this authentication is done using public and private encryption keys similar to those used to encrypt email messages. While this explanation makes the authentication process sound rock solid, I will point out that the security of this type of digital signature depends greatly upon the computer's email security. If someone leaves his or her computer on and logged in all the time, with email logged in and open (with no password-protected screensaver), then anyone who has physical or online remote access to that computer could conceivably pretend to be the computer's owner to send or sign documents electronically. Therefore, when working with digital signatures, you should make sure your email systems are locked down tightly when you're not using them. A few additional DocuSign features are listed below:
- DocuSign allows you to create your own electronic signature to include in documents that both parties are required to sign. The example screenshot below shows the dialog box where electronic signatures are created. Note that this screen pops up automatically the moment a signer attempts to digitally sign a document.
- DocuSign allows you to brand your account with your own colors and company logo.
- DocuSign allows you to create boilerplate contract wording to serve as templates to speed up the DocuSign process.
- You can upload your headshot photo so the recipient can see with whom they are dealing.
Similar digital signature solutions are available from Adobe Sign (prices start at $9.99 per month); Concord (prices start at $50 per seat, per month); and Eversign (Eversign Lite is available for free with more robust versions priced starting at $9.99 per month). All prices are as of September 2019.
About the author
J. Carlton Collins, CPA, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technology consultant, a conference presenter, and a JofA contributing editor.
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