There are times when something pops up that makes some people stop and think: “Hang on, am I completely comfortable with where this is all going?”
Such was the case, for example, with internet banking. The fears of mischievous types hacking our bank details, stealing our life savings, and selling our personal details to the highest bidder have abated to such an extent that you could probably count on one hand the number of times you’ve visited the bank in the past year. In fact, it’s become acceptable for people to buy a house completely online, without any human interaction whatsoever. And so, what once was typically considered an untrustworthy innovation has now become one of the most adopted technologies in modern day.
Another innovation that has traditionally caused some suspicion is digital signatures. Digital signatures have been a thing for a long time in the eyes of the Australian Tax Office, but for many years weren’t commonly implemented in business, and like internet banking, people were slow and suspicious to adopt. Supporting this case was feedback from accountants concerned with the legality of these signatures, of the ATO’s requirements – in fact, of a definite description of what, exactly, a digital signature even is. So let’s get to the bottom of it, shall we?
A digital (or electronic) signature is an alternate means to formally and legally sign a document. Or, as the Electronic Transactions Act of 1999 puts it:
“A transaction is not invalid because it took place by means of one or more electronic communications.”
So a digital signature replaces a wet (hand-written) signature.
With respect to the question of what the ATO requires, it’s fair to say that there are rules. Quite a few of them. Which is why MYOB, for example, spent a significant amount of time working with the ATO to get concrete approval for its digital signature procedure within MYOB Portal. Launched 2015, MYOB Portal is an online collaboration tool that delivers information and enhances two-way communication between accountants and their clients. It includes digital signatures so clients can approve important documentation which are legally binding; for example tax returns or paperwork to be submitted to banks.
Which takes us neatly back to the internet banking analogy earlier.
MYOB Portal has been extremely busy requesting and receiving electronically-signed documents. In fact, thousands of documents have been processed this way since the beta label came off the free service in May.
Clients and accountants who were once upon a time slow to accept and adopt the technology have now turned the tide. Today, over 70 per cent of clients receiving signed document requests via MYOB Portal have happily complied. And the majority of those that didn't sign simply had a request for more / changed information before accepting the document. Once users recognised the benefits of digital signatures, whether in the accounting, legal or real estate profession, there was a clear perception shift. And now we’re seeing digital signatures being used as frequently as internet banking.
Technology innovations are exciting and exist to make our lives easier, but they don’t always immediately sky rocket. Internet banking, digital signatures, and even recent innovations in wearable technology and cloud accounting were not always widely accepted. It wasn’t until we understood the technology and its positive impacts to our life that they took off. So that leads me to the question; what innovation of today will disrupt tomorrow?