7 Predictions for Electronic Signature Growth

We’re in the middle of an e-signature boom. With business rapidly moving to the cloud and employees settling in to remote offices, e-signature has quickly become an essential tool in the new digital workspace. As the new year starts, it’s a good time to take stock of the way your organization manages signatures and imagine new ways to grow.

Docusign has studied e-signature's recent growth and analyzed current trends. We've put together seven predictions about what the future of e-signature will look like in 2022 and beyond.

1. E-signature will become an expected, essential part of the contract process for organizations of all sizes

In the last two years, businesses changed significantly to maintain continuity and accommodate customers in new circumstances. E-signature was an easy first step for a lot of teams looking to make the move to remote-friendly operations. In Docusign research conducted in 2021, we found that 95% of organizations either currently use e-signature or plan to use e-signature in the future. On top of that, two-thirds of businesses currently using e-signature only adopted it in the last two years. In short, e-signature has exploded. It’s ubiquitous now. The organizations that stick to outdated signature processes will give up a significant competitive edge. 

What does that mean for e-signature users? Your competition has caught up and the baseline has shifted. Having a simple signature process for internal collaboration and external transactions is no longer a differentiator. To regain the operational edge, you need to think bigger. Connect more tools to your signature stack to offer a better customer and employee experience. Instead of offering only electronic signatures, use integrations to automatically fill in agreement information. Instead of creating contracts from scratch, use templates to reduce duplicate work. Digitally verify signer identity. Build out mobile signing and add SMS alerts for customers. Once you’ve replaced the bottleneck of ink-and-paper signatures, look for new parts of the experience that can be customized or improved with integrations or APIs.

2. E-signature will grow from a team-specific tool to a companywide strategic imperative 

At most of today’s modern organizations, e-signature technology is owned by the teams most likely to be involved in digital agreements: legal and IT. Recent Docusign research reveals that more than 70% of organizations rely on one of these two teams to be the primary lead for internal expansion of e-signature. Though it may be the case that legal or IT teams initially drove efforts to adopt e-signature, ownership of the agreement process is something that’s bigger than any one individual team.

As more agreements are digitally generated, negotiated, completed and stored, every team at an organization will take an interest in part of the bigger e-signature picture. HR will want to streamline hiring and onboarding paperwork (especially if those new employees are remote). Sales will want to simplify contract creation and approval. Procurement will want to improve flexibility in negotiating with new and existing vendors. Legal and IT will still be involved as central owners, but other teams will become more invested in e-signature’s success.

3. New laws will expand usage of witnessing services for electronically signed agreements

Some parts of the agreement transaction process still are being performed in person. This is common for instances where a third party witness is needed for the completion or signing of an agreement. With documents that need to be formally witnessed by a notary public (for example: affidavits, powers of attorney), individual signers may need to go through incredibly inconvenient in-person processes to sign an agreement appropriately. In response to the need for more multi-party transactions to occur without face-to-face interactions, there has been a lot of momentum in certain geographies to legally recognize remote online witnessing services as a practical alternative. In the U.S., more than 35 states now authorize remote online notarial services. In Australia, several states have authorized the use of broader applications of remote electronic witnessing.  

This progress isn’t going away. Trends like this only move in one direction. The states and countries that have accepted remote electronic witnessing will continue to evolve laws to address additional use cases to further reap the benefits of a more modern, efficient and secure digital infrastructure. The states and countries that haven’t yet made that move will monitor what other regions are doing and follow suit soon. Remote electronic witnessing services, such as remote online notary, are a clear evolution that allows multiple parties to robustly interact with critical agreements. Organizations that routinely deal with multi-party transactions (especially in heavily regulated industries) and need to interact with third party witnesses should keep an eye on evolving laws and regulations to take advantage of new use cases. They will also need flexible e-signature platforms that allow them to adapt to evolving digital trends to effectively take advantage of these changes as soon as they happen.

4. Digital agreement collaboration will expand to include new functionality

Far too often, e-signature is only involved at the very end of the agreement process. All the involved parties might create an agreement and negotiate it the old-fashioned way and then use e-signature to complete the final step. This process is still an improvement over traditional paper-based processes, but it’s only scratching the surface of the potential. The ability to electronically sign documents has recently been recognized as the critical gap filler in enabling end-to-end digital workflows. No longer does a document need to be printed, signed and then scanned. Rather, the effectiveness of digital tools has further proven in the last couple of years that the entire agreement workflow can remain digital. This progress will only continue as companies further integrate digital products with each other to increase the robustness and sophistication of their workflows.

In the new hybrid workspace, employees have become comfortable using a series of digital tools to complete transactions. Agreement workflows will evolve to connect these tools together into a unified end-to-end process. The digital signing experience will no longer be limited to just signatures. It will also host virtual negotiations (via video or chat solutions) and facilitate cooperative contract revisions in real time. This new setup will allow people to get more done using various technologies they’re already comfortable with. It also will allow organizations to supercharge their existing employee digital toolkit, which translates to a higher level of white-glove customer service that will instantly turn into a competitive differentiator.

5. Digital transformation will revolutionize internal processes

By streamlining agreement processes, organizations in every industry can fundamentally change the way they do business to eliminate frustrating inefficiencies. The shift toward digitalization has reduced patience for the bottlenecks, errors and delays of status quo workflows. Efficiency gains in customer-facing processes are just as appealing for employees. The teams that move quickly to process information with simpler, faster, more connected workflows will see noticeable cost savings and big revenue gains.

A great example of one of these digital trailblazers is Santander U.K., a large retail and commercial bank. Seeing an opportunity to use new technology to eliminate customer pain points, Santander digitized and automated the onboarding and loan fulfillment processes. The bank used integrations and APIs to build a fully connected digital loan workflow and reduced loan application time by 83%. Modern customers flocked to the digital-first environment that Santander created, increasing loans processed by 10x.

6. Touchless experiences will skyrocket

As the world settles into new post-pandemic patterns, there needs to be safer, more efficient ways to do business that use technology to replace manual steps. An especially attractive option is touchless interactions, where a consumer can entirely avoid physical contact with new people or technology. McKinsey reports that the U.S. has seen an increased preference for contactless operations by 20%. For example, instead of using a pen to fill out a clipboard full of paperwork before medical visits, patients can use their own devices to identify themselves, provide personal information and even complete the process with an electronic signature.

These touchfree environments take a lot of technological groundwork to set up correctly and some are easier than others. If your organization wants to offer customers a touchless experience, you need to map out that intended journey and put together the digital toolkit to make it a reality. Make sure to do the research on vendors and choose the one that fits your needs best.

7. Agreement technologies will begin to consolidate 

A lot of organizations start their agreement digitization efforts by adopting an e-signature tool. It’s an easy first step that most serious organizations have already taken. The next steps in the broader contracting journey, however, are not as uniform across the board. There are actions before (generation, negotiation, routing, authentication) and after (activation, search, management, notarization) signature. There are also agreements that don’t even require a signature (i.e., clickwraps). The demand for tools to complete each of those individual processes has created a series of new vendors that create products to manage specific parts of the process.

Looking forward, creating a system of agreement with a series of standalone point solutions is not a sustainable solution. Each new product that is added to the agreement stack is another opportunity for incongruence, delays and costs. Every transition from one product to another is a potential failure point. Rather than look for the best tool for a specific agreement step, step back and plan for a digital toolkit that offers the most end-to-end functionality with the fewest number of vendors. Companies that provide agreement tools will also respond, either by integrating with other companies or increasing their set of features.

Learn more about how your organization can do more with e-signature in our new eBook, 7 Reasons to Expand E-Signature Usage.