Article - A Dummy Proof Guide to Electronic Signatures

A Dummy Proof Guide to Electronic Signatures

Let’s face the music – we’re all dummies when it comes to new technologies.

And that’s perfectly normal! No one was born with a library updated in real time inside their brain unless Elon Musk figures out how to download Wikipedia straight into our brains in the next 10 years. But the faster we recognise the potential of some technologies, the faster we can adapt and the faster we can actually make use of their huge potential. And when it comes to electronic signatures, the quicker we adopt them, the more efficient we are and we will be in business and day to day.

And the more time we free up so we can binge-watch Game of Thrones.

Now, a lot of the invariable questions about electronic signatures will pop up, and they will sound like this:

  1. What are electronic signatures?
  2. Are they legally valid?
  3. What happens when a judge throws it out of court?


…why do I really need them? 

All of these are perfectly valid questions.

This article will unpack all of those concerns, present them to you in the most friendly way possible while keeping it simple and concise.

So grab a cup of coffee and call your local paper recycler to tell him you won’t be needing his services in the future because you are going digital. Maybe you’ll recycle once in a while some old tablets but that’s it.

Article 2 - A Dummy Proof Guide to Electronic Signatures

All right then – Number 1.

What are electronic signatures?

The name is self explanatory. Electronic signatures are digital variants of your handwritten signatures, viewable over the cloud and depending on the level of security, enough to be a legally approved digital equivalent of a handwritten signature. All of those documents you’ve been signing over the past tens of years – forget it. You won’t be doing that any more.

Electronic signatures were made to replace paper and to improve efficiency. They are here to help you sign all types of documents, from bank loans, to insurance policies, to supply contracts, to sales contracts, receipts… Everything can be done with electronic signatures. And in the meantime, you’re also saving the environment by not using that much paper. Plus lower costs… and especially time.

Due to recent European regulations, called the eIDAS Regulation – which establishes a legal framework for electronic signatures within the EU – in force since 2016, electronic signatures now offer 3 types of signatures – Simple ES (Electronic Signature), Advanced ES and Qualified ES. All of them are legally valid, all of them are used to sign contracts and paperwork electronically and in the case of a Qualified ES, it’s considered the equivalent of a handwritten signature.

Number 2

Are they legal?


Of course and no doubt about it. In Europe for example, the recent European regulation – eIDAS Regulation – which entered into force on the 1st of July 2016 makes all types of electronic signatures legal.

No legal doubt. Electronic signatures, of all types, are 100% legal and valid in front of the law.

Still unsure? The text of eIDAS can be found here –

Scroll down to Article 25 for more detailed information on the validity of electronic signatures.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to click, here’s what Article 25, point (1) specifies:

An electronic signature shall not be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the grounds that it is in an electronic form or that it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures.

100% valid.

Number 3

What happens when a judge throws it out of a court?

Oops, wrong question.

The judge cannot throw it out of a court simply because it is a electronic signature. It’s illegal to now dismiss e-signatures simply because they are electronic.

Especially a Qualified ES, which is the equivalent of a handwritten signature in digital form.

Number 4

What do you use them for?

Well… for everything in fact.

Electronic signatures at this moment are in the developing industry phase, meaning that they have not been accepted by every single business you can think of. Notary agreements for example still have to be signed by hand but in the nearby future, even those complex agreements will be signed electronically.

But banks use them. So do insurance companies. Heavy industry. Oil & Gas. Military. Technology. Leasing. Wealth Management. Retail. Security. Construction. Healthcare.

So you’re covered. Now, what type of electronic signatures to do you use? The eIDAS regulation is now covering all of that as well by differentiating between three different types of signatures – Simple ES (SES)Advanced ES (AES) and Qualified ES (QES) – which I will explain below what they do and what they require.

  • SES – Simple Electronic Signature

You already use it. That e-mail signature you use, that’s a simple electronic signature. It’s valid because it expresses consent – after all, e-mails are clear court evidence.

This also applies to tick boxes, for example.

  • AES  Advanced Electronic Signature

AES are the bridge between a lax layer of security (SES) and a very secure layer of security (QES) – they represent the middle way, a combination of security and ease of use that can be granted only by these signatures. AES require only information about the signatory and it’s required that the signatory has sole access to that signature – as in, nobody else can use it. All you have to do is to present your ID card to an identification authority (such as a bank employee) and you’re good.

They’re fairly simple to use, offer a decent level of assurance and relatively easy to implement.

AES is usually used to sign for example different types of financial loans in some countries.

  • QES – Qualified Electronic Signature

QES’s are in a different league of security and complexity.

Created with security in mind, and recognised as the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature, the qualified electronic signature is the most secure layer of electronic signature created. It requires strong personal identification and a creation of a qualified certificate that provides this extra layer of identification and security, essentially guaranteeing the identity of the person behind the signature.

Think mortgages, home insurance policies and every other document that is required to have a handwritten signature because of the importance of such a document. Furthermore, a QES reverses the burden of proof – so after a document is signed, the signatory has to prove that he has not signed the document, making it almost “sealed” in front of the law.

Two more details to remember – there’s also a biometric signature example (with a signature pad – sign your signature in a normal way over a digital signature pad), which captures all sorts of biometric information (pressure of signature, speed, acceleration…) about the signatory, ensuring a particular set of information. However, biometric signatures are a different type of legal labyrinth and some countries do not really embrace them.

Separately, you can do your signatures on a signature pad, as mentioned above, but without biometric information – simply sign with a digital pen that captures your signature on a pad, which automatically transforms your signature into digital form. You can even do so with your finger on a tablet, for example. (or even with a mouse on a laptop!)

Lastly, recent developments allow you the opportunity of video identification in countries within the European Union… which saves you from even the obligatory visit to the bank branch for example! All you have to do is a video chat with a bank operator who will identify you and based on that your signature (QES) will be issued to sign a contract.

So… now that you re convinced of the uses of electronic signatures, where do you get one?

This is intended to be as objective as possible – so all I have here to suggest is that you give a quick Google, read some reviews and check the EU Trusted List of approved electronic signature suppliers. You’ll find all of the information you need to make the best decision for you or your company needs. 🙂

May the Digital Force be with you!

Article by Edward Cretescu