There is probably no need to begin this article by talking about the benefits of going digital. Let's face it: digitisation is sexy, digitisation is necessary. Companies that are not trying to get their customers from stores to computers or mobile phones to sell them products and services online are now considered dinosaurs. And just like in ancient times, today's dinosaurs seem doomed to future extinction.
And while digitisation is not exactly rocket science, you cannot say it is a piece of cake either. At least basic knowledge or some experience are good prerequisites for a successful transition to the modern way of doing business.
At Deloitte Legal, we have long assisted clients with transitioning to remote transactions, so we thought we would share our 10 tips on how to do it.
1. Consider the differences between paper and electronic formats
Every time I meet a new client and we start talking about going digital, we first focus on the basic principle. Traditional ways of closing deals and the world of paper have their ingrained conventions and mechanics. In general, it may seem that these conventions and mechanics can be easily transferred to the digital world. However, in my experience, such an approach would only take us half the way.
As an example, the classic handwritten signature has the advantage that it is created by the movement of a person’s hand and there is no way to replace this process.
E-signatures are created on the basis of electronic signature certificates and/or after e-authentication. We can see the difference immediately: although such certificates or login details should be secure, their leakage and subsequent misuse can theoretically occur.
On the other hand, e-signatures (with the exception of the lowest certification levels) will secure the final document against subsequent alteration. In contrast, in the case of handwritten paper contracts, it is theoretically not possible to rule out subsequent rewriting of part of the text.
From the above examples, it is clear that both paper and digital forms have their benefits and the best practice is to take advantage of these benefits and always choose the form that is more appropriate for the case.
2. Handle e-documents electronically
A natural follow-up to the previous tip is the recommendation not to mix the paper and digital worlds. Simply put, it is not ideal to print out a document with an e-signature and then “countersign” it manually, just as it is not ideal to scan a paper draft of a contract with the counterparty’s handwritten signature and then attach an e-signature to the scan.
3. Select the level of e-signature according to the importance of the transaction
If you decide to switch to e-signatures, you should know that they come in several levels. From simple signatures to advanced signatures, recognised signatures and qualified signatures, i.e. the highest level of e-signatures. Simply put, the higher the level, the better the security against misuse, but sometimes at the cost of being less intuitive and user-friendly.
However, each level will have its use in an appropriate situation. If you are not signing the biggest transaction of your life, but for example confirming a small loan of CZK 100 with a friend via email, the lower levels of e-signatures will be a more practical choice.
4. Do not be afraid of qualified signatures
However, in the case of a larger transaction, qualified signatures were designed to protect the signatories against fraud or other legal uncertainty. And while it may seem that “qualified signatures are complicated”, in reality, it often only takes one visit to one of the three Czech certification authorities to get the job done. In addition, at least one Czech certification authority has branches on every corner.
5. You can also use “signature platforms”
Nowadays, it is no longer true that you have to “get an e-signature” yourself and then use it all the time. There are many services on the market that allow electronic signing – a.k.a. “signature platforms”. Just beware that signature platforms can differ significantly. Just as there are several levels of e-signatures, signature platforms offer different levels of electronic signing, and sometimes even the same platform can exist in several variants.
6. The level of the signature can be best seen directly in the final e-document
If you decide to go digital, it doesn’t mean that you will only sign electronically for your company. At the same time, you will probably also receive electronically signed documents from your business partners.
The best way to know what level of signature your partner has sent you is to learn to recognise those levels directly in the electronic PDF document.
7. Prepare for future proof of signature level
We often assist our clients, especially larger companies, with implementing mid-level (advanced) signatures. These are signatures that combine a reasonable level of security and user-friendliness. The most important thing with advanced signatures is the correct linking of the signature to the signer, the creation of an audit trail and the development of a procedure for proving the level of the signature in the event of a dispute.
8. Discuss digitisation options in specific areas
The previous tips are mostly related to the digital transition in general. However, there are a few specific areas that may have special requirements for the level of signature (e.g. HR, real estate purchase, etc.). It is usually sufficient to simply consult an expert in the area, but generally speaking, there is no reason not to go digital in these areas as well.
9. Do not forget to archive
If in the first tip I mentioned the differences between the paper and digital worlds and stressed the need to handle e-documents electronically, I follow up in the ninth tip with a reminder that electronic contracts should also be archived electronically. For higher levels of signatures, this does not necessarily mean that the electronic contract is merely “left on the computer” – the need for archiving is easily addressed by electronic archiving service.
10. Use digitisation as an opportunity
If you successfully make the switch to digital transactions, you will open up opportunities to further streamline your business. You can speed up customer contact, eliminate transaction costs or simplify your employees’ agenda. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities and do not just stop at getting started with electronic signatures. It would be a great shame.
The article was published on June 21, 2022 on the Info.cz website. (edited)