In this age of electronic transactions, lots of financial agreements between parties (consumer and business) are concluded with neither party in the the presence of the other, and the approval is obtained without a drop of ink on paper.
We certainly facilitate that ability to agree ?virtually? by providing SaaS-based electronic signature software that parties can access anywhere, anytime, and be alerted by e-mail when the document has reached their stop in the approval chain.
E-Commerce is largely driven by electronic approval of transactions. We all hit “submit” when ready to buy, and trust that services like VeriSign really are keeping our personal data safe.
We also have a high degree of trust that the keepers of the actual records of the transaction are keeping the documents we signed safe and retrievable, as the law demands.
Interestingly, federal e-signature laws specifically give consumers and businesses the right to continue to use paper where desired. If you don’t wish to sign electronically, you can demand a return to the paper-base system and have a contract mailed to you, for instance.
Officially, then, prior to obtaining a consumer’s consent for electronic transactions, a business must:
- Provide a notice indicating that paper contracts are available
- Inform consumers that if they give their consent to use electronic documents, they can later change their mind and request a paper agreement instead
- Explain what fees or penalties might apply if the company must use paper agreements for the transaction
- Indicate whether the consumer’s consent applies only to the particular transaction at hand, or to a larger category of transactions between the business and the consumer — in other words, whether the business has to get consent to use e-contracts/signatures for each transaction
- Provide a statement outlining the hardware and software requirements to read and save the business’s electronic documents
- If the hardware or software requirements change, notify consumers of the change and give consumers the option (penalty-free) to revoke their consent to using electronic documents.
Phew! Are you offered these options when you agree to buy a product through a website using your credit card? Do you think the “terms and conditions” you never read have been informing you of these rights all along?
As a merchant, or a business getting contracts signed electronically, you should have the paper-and-ink option available, and have a mechanism for getting the paper version to your counterparty.
Be prepared, even if you never get asked. The one time you do get asked, if you can’t provide the paper-based alternative, you may miss out on a sale or have a consumer complaint to address!