“Yrs. Truly, A. Lincoln”: Are wet signatures one and done or here to stay?

wet signature

One day in 1929, a petty criminal named Joseph Cosey decided to pay a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington. He had no criminal intent walking in. But that all changed when he happened upon a 1786 pay warrant signed by Benjamin Franklin, which he secretly slipped into his pocket and left with. Much to his dismay, when he tried to sell it, a New York City book dealer turned him away saying the autograph was fake.

Little did the salesman know that his judgment would spur the career of the most prolific forger in US history and wreak havoc on the local autograph market. Cosey took the rejection as a challenge and, wanting to teach the dealer a lesson, buried himself in public libraries for months copying the signatures of dignitaries. By 1931, he managed to forge “Yrs. Truly, A. Lincoln” on a scrap of paper so masterfully that the seller promptly bought it as an original.

Cosey’s “origin story” beautifully underlines the inherent risk of using wet signatures. That is, they can be faked. By anyone apparently, with the right amount of determination. But that’s far from being the only downside of physical document signing.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what wet signatures are, what other – not to mention faster, safer, and more convenient – ways are out there to make documents legally binding and why you should consider switching to a dry alternative. Let’s get started!

What is a wet signature? Meaning and examples

A wet or wet ink signature generally refers to the process of signing a document using a person’s physical signature made by hand and with a pen. To put it in more legal terms, a wet signature is a physically generated signature of a person that can be compared to other physically created signatures of the person for verification of authenticity.

It’s worth noting here that under the Uniform Commercial Code, a collection of laws governing all commercial transactions in the United States, neither the pen nor the name part is obligatory. According to Section 3-401, signatures can also be made with a device or machine and, in lieu of a name, using a word, mark, or symbol adopted by the signatory.

So what documents require a wet signature?

Depending on the jurisdiction in which the parties are based, wet signatures may be required by law for loan agreements, court orders, articles of incorporation, wills, eviction notices, adoption forms, powers of attorney, and so on. Wet-signed documents can also be required by the signatories. The US Code, for example, specifically states that anyone can refuse to use or accept electronic records or signatures in contractual dealings.

Wet signature vs electronic signature: the difference between the two types of signature, explained

In the simplest of terms, an electronic signature, or e-signature, is a signature created to sign an agreement or other document electronically.

According to Gartner’s definition, an electronic signature is a traceable email or a biometric applied to a message. The biometric may be based on digitized handwriting, which is converted by cryptography into a digital signature, or a biometric, such as a fingerprint that can be combined with a hash or digest of the message to show the signer’s intent. Electronic signatures can’t be removed and applied to other documents to forge a signature.

Digital signatures are a subset of electronic signatures with an added layer of security. A digital signature, as per the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, is a means of validating the authenticity and integrity of a message, whether it’s an email, a credit card transaction, or a digital document. The algorithm creates a virtual fingerprint unique to the signatory that is used to both identify its owner and protect the message content.

Electronic signature: use cases and global impact

Everyday examples of electronic signatures include users simply typing their names on a keyboard or drawing it with a mouse or touchpad to sign a loan agreement, entering a PIN code to submit their income tax returns, clicking ‘I agree’ to express consent to a website’s terms of service, or using their finger to create an electronic signature on a mobile or tablet touchscreen to sign for a package.

In almost every way, Forbes believes, electronic signatures are superior to their ink-based counterparts. They’re instant and constant, portable, legally binding, and better for the planet, plus save time and postage as they render the recipient’s location irrelevant and can be completed in a matter of seconds. No wonder that e-signatures have seen enthusiastic adoption in the past decade.

In the US, for example, not one but two laws have granted legal recognition to electronic document signing.

The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, or E-Sign Act, was passed in 2000 to provide a general rule of validity for electronic records and signatures for transactions in or affecting commerce across state and country lines. It explicitly allows the use of electronic records to satisfy any statute, regulation, or rule of law that calls for such information to be supplied in writing, with the affirmative and valid consent of the signatories.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, or UETA, was signed into law the same year in response to the rise of electronic means of communication and doing business. It serves as a legal foundation for the use of such means where the parties have agreed to deal electronically. As Chief Attorney Sandra Norman-Eady pointed out, UETA placed electronic and paper-based transactions on the same legal footing in an effort to remove barriers to electronic commerce.

In 2014, the EU’s Regulation on electronic identification and trust services, eIDAS for short, was passed in the same vein. That is, to secure cross-border transactions and foster a predictable regulatory environment. As a result, EU citizens have been able to benefit from safer and smoother experiences when filing their taxes, enrolling in a foreign university, remotely opening a bank account, setting up a business in another member state, among other things.

Electronic signature benefits you shouldn’t miss out on

1. Shortens turnaround times

According to Gartner, drags in a company’s legal and compliance activities can translate into 1.3 times longer contract review cycles, 6.5 extra days in product launch timeframes as well as $7 million in resulting revenue losses, or 32% longer contracting with a third party. Obtaining and keeping track of signatures can be a real time drain during the contract management process, which can be drastically reduced by allowing users to sign documents and return them in just a few clicks or taps.

2. Boosts employee experience

According to Kallidus, 58% of organizations say their onboarding program revolves around processes and paperwork instead of people. Moving the daunting administrative task that is employee onboarding into the digital space can help companies get off on the right foot with their new hires and frees up bandwidth for everyone involved in the process. Considering that the number of remote workers is expected to nearly double by 2025 in the US alone, the speed and simplicity of signing employment papers online will likely go from perk to priority.

3. Keeps documents safe and in order

Based on our research, the potential loss of control over files once they’re shared is a main concern for 47% of European enterprises. Just because a document is printed and signed on paper, however, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Research shows that one out of every 20 documents gets lost or misplaced. And the 19 that don’t are still hard to keep track of in terms of who can access and potentially misuse them. Electronic signature tools let you boost productivity without compromising on security, compliance, or control.

4. Enhances customer convenience

A disjointed customer experience is a dealbreaker for 72% of global internet users. So much so that they’d rather switch to another service provider or brand than go through it again. Or finish it: the average abandon-rate for new deposit account openings, for example, is more than 50%. Online signing capabilities allow businesses to build fluid and consistent customer journeys and deliver the tailored, hassle-free interactions today’s consumers increasingly expect, if not take for granted, at every touchpoint.

E-sign your documents with confidence: eSign by Tresorit

Tresorit’s electronic signature for documents was designed with the same vision we had for all our solutions: to give users more control over their data. Securing a digital economy means securing all data assets the businesses manage, including documents that require a signature. Use Tresorit eSign to:

  1. Electronically sign any document, whether it’s an asset purchase agreement, employment contract or non-disclosure agreement, faster without sacrificing security
  2. Create fine-grained access controls to documents and share them securely with internal or external signatories through encrypted email or with encrypted links
  3. Keep track of completed, pending, and rejected requests in one place and set up a secure contract repository for collaboration across departments
  4. Take care of the signing process in three easy steps: create an eSign request, share the request link with your collaborators and get notified once they’re done