People Still Don’t Trust Electronic Signatures

At some point, you’ve probably had to submit a signed document to someone far away from you. Lacking a fax machine or scanner, you asked the person on the other end if it would be acceptable to do the “/s/yourname” thing, or some variant, in lieu of a real signature. My luck has been mixed on this — 50/50, say — and a new study confirms that many people don’t see electronic signatures as being as trustworthy as regular ones.

Over the course of four experiments, Eileen Y. Chou of the University of Virginia had study participants complete a number of scenarios in which they evaluating the trustworthiness of people filling out various forms using either regular signatures or five types of electronic ones. Here’s what she found:

[E]-signatures evoked markedly different psychological reactions than hand signatures. Namely, e-signatures evoked a weaker sense of the signer’s presence and involvement. This weaker sense of social presence, in turn, induced negativity: People were more likely to discount the validity of an e-signed application than that of an identical application signed by hand. They also anticipated that e-signed contracts would lead to greater likelihood of contract breaches. This negativity toward e-signatures persisted across five different types of e-signatures, regardless of an individual’s level of comfort with technology. Taken together, the studies reveal deeply rooted psychological reactions to a practice that is now prevalent worldwide.

That last part is key — this is now a really common practice, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. What’s so magical about putting pen to paper, especially when great distance makes it inconvenient to do so? But it could be that, in time, this will no longer be an issue; the study doesn’t address whether there’s an age component, with younger people viewing electronic signatures as more trustworthy. Common sense would suggest young people are less suspicious of these transactions, but that’s something you’d have to test, of course.

Either way, here’s hoping the annoying and pointless tradition of formal signatures continues its decline. Sincerely, /s/Jesse Singal.