Some things sound more unique and exotic than they really are. A great example of this is the phrase “wet signature.” It sounds like something that you might hear in reference to government ops or environmental science, but a wet signature, in short, is a signature—an old fashioned signature that starts with something wet (ink), as opposed to an electronic signature.
Why is it called a wet signature? Why not just a signature? Because, due to relatively recent changes in technology, electronic signing options have become as common as traditional signatures for important documents. To help you understand why let’s provide you with a little more background on both signature options.
As long as written language has existed, writing your name has been treated as your bond. This was true even in times of high illiteracy when many people would sign their name with an x or simple block script of their names because they had never been taught how to properly write their own name.
It is interesting, in retrospect, that the signature was considered binding when there was absolutely no way to determine if a person was the one who actually scratched out the block letters of that name. It may be that the idea of signing was generally enough for most people to accept their agreement as binding and not dispute it. It could also be that this uncertainty is why signed contracts ideally are witnessed by someone other than the signers. This avoids disputes where someone claims they did not willingly sign.
If the witnesses say you signed of your own free will, it becomes much harder to dispute than if you just have one person saying that they saw the other sign something.
Another aspect of wet signatures implied in their name is that they really need to be written on the document to be at their strongest. In other words, photocopies of signatures, while still carrying some weight, are not as strong in court as the actual original signature was, especially if it was witnessed. If you are using wet signatures to verify your contracts, you need to make sure that you are following a very specific set of steps to avoid your contract being meaningless.
Wet signatures are expensive in several ways. Since you really need the original copy for the contract to be as valuable, you will need to store the contract for as long as you want to be able to enforce the contract and past the point of any legal dispute’s viability. This requires a huge amount of storage that will continue to grow with new contracts. The costs to store these files can be substantial.
Storage costs aren’t the only expense associated with paper files. You also have to take into consideration the fairly large costs associated with printing that many documents to begin with. Paper costs are part of it, but there is also ink and printer maintenance, as well as filing cabinets or banker’s boxes.
There is also a huge environmental cost to all that paper. By reducing your paper usage, you dramatically decrease your carbon footprint. This has the rare benefit of being a decision that is good for the world, good for your bottom line, and good PR. Your customers love to hear that working with you allows them to contribute in some small way as well.
In the world of modern document completion, electronic signatures have become the standard in many places. ESignatures are the main reason we now also use the term “wet signature.” Although eSignatures have existed for 20 or so years, they have become extremely common in the last several years. ESignatures could likely replace wet signatures in all but the rarest of circumstances very soon. Here is why:
1. eSignatures are very trackable thanks to timestamping
Using eSignatures, you have a clear paper trail (figuratively speaking) of each step in the transaction process. The moment it is signed, and consent is given to enter an agreement, the contract is completed and binding. Timestamps on the actions of signing mean no one can dispute when the arrangement went into effect.
There are possible scenarios where this could be extremely relevant. If you entered into an agreement to provide an exclusive service, you want to make sure the exact beginning of this agreement is tracked to guarantee there is no interference with your exclusivity period. Later contract disputes can be traced to the minute.
2. eSignatures are super convenient and secure for all parties
In addition to timestamping, electronic signatures have the benefit of convenience. Wet signatures require both parties to physically interact with the contract at some point. This generally means one of three options.
Option one involves scheduling a time to meet, traveling to a separate location, and reading the contract while the other party watches, just so you can both sign. This is a lot of time taken up for both parties in the arrangement to do something that realistically only takes a few minutes to do.
Option two involves mailing the document to the signer so that they can review it, sign it, and send it back. After this, you can either mail them their copy of the completed contract or scan and email them a copy.
The final option would involve your customer printing an emailed document and signing it, then returning it themselves. You might get your contract back eventually, but there are no guarantees that it will be timely.
With electronic signing as an option, you streamline this process. You complete the document, either by scanning and uploading or by using a template provided by your software manufacturer. You email it to the other party of your deal. They would then review the document at their leisure before “signing” the document and notifying you that they are finished with their part.
Secure eSignatures are safer than traditional scanned paper files that can be manipulated and treated as photocopies. ESignatures have been deemed legally binding in the courts, so there is no reason not to use them.
3. eSignatures are budget-friendly for you and your client and help maximize profits
Taking the time to complete a paper contract with a wet signature means that several hours of productive time are potentially lost for every contract you complete. Put another way; this means that every contract you complete through an eSignature saves your organization several hours that can be spent on other income-generating activities.
This brings in more of the hidden costs of paper documents. There is a potentially huge labor cost involved in sorting, filing, and maintaining all of those paper files. Beyond that, there is an even larger, potentially devastating cost to doing business the old fashioned way. Turnaround time on paper documents is substantially longer than digital. This is true whether you are mailing contracts and having them returned (don’t forget the cost of overnight or expedited shipping in your cost analysis) or you are requiring your customers to come to you to sign their documents.
There are no guarantees until you have a contract. If you are working in a wet signature environment and trying to expedite the process by emailing a contract that needs to be printed and signed, you are relying on your customer to overcome any difficulties that may arise in printing, and there is still the question of how they return it. Are you expecting them to get their own shipping supplies and pay the postage to return the signed contract to you? These are more obstacles to your customer, and anything that makes things less convenient for your customer reduces their loyalty to you, especially in the early stages when establishing contracts is relevant.
While your customer is waiting on their documents to arrive, putting off printing because they ran out of ink, or planning to come to see you in your office, they are also able to shop around for other services or sign with someone else who is a little more efficient than you due to modern technology.
Utilizing e-Signatures allows you to lock your contracts in as quickly as possible. It eliminates complications by providing a simple solution that is literally a few clicks away. An electronic signature service like Revv allows you to conveniently manage electronic signatures from the cloud, meaning you can work with contracts from anywhere and send them anywhere. Once that all-important contract is signed and finalized, your business is locked in.
There are many reasons to transition your company off of wet signatures. The initial growing pains of changing systems will be quickly made up for in increased profits. Efficiency improvements will lead to higher productivity as well as greater customer satisfaction. It is also more convenient for your employees, leading to higher employee satisfaction and retention.