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Digital signatures disrupting the industry


As technology whisks us swiftly towards the future, there are occasions where it’s important to be mindful that not all change is accepted with open arms.

By Kevin Rawlings 10 minute read

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?


Kevin Rawlings

Kevin Rawlings


Kevin Rawlings joined MYOB in 2008 as Client Relations Manager, becoming General Manager, Practice Solutions in 2014. Before joining MYOB he held a number of senior management positions within the telecommunications sector, working with local start up technology businesses in Australia, as well as with global multinationals across the US, Asia and Europe. Kevin brings to the Practice Solutions business over 7 years of experience in working with accountants using MYOB’s solutions across Australia and New Zealand.
Kevin has a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) from the University of Leeds, UK.

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