SignFlow ties up with Accfin to digitise accounting processes

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The integration of two state-of-the-art software platforms transports the accounting profession into a new world of digitisation.

Digital signature workflow solution SignFlow and accounting software firm Accfin have integrated their respective software platforms, in a move that places the accounting profession securely in a new and exciting world of digitisation.

Accfin, a local software firm leading the way in automation of back-office systems for accounting and auditing companies, grew out of an accounting firm over 20 years ago. The recent tie-up with SignFlow – a locally developed and internationally recognised digital signature solution – essentially automates the entire communication process involved in the accounting practice.

Leon van der Merwe, head of digital at SignFlow parent company PBSA, explains, “By using the SignFlow feature in Accfin software, you eliminate the need for print, courier and e-mailing of sensitive documents to customers – and then having to wait days, even weeks for a response.

“SignFlow is built on a powerful, digital workflow engine that tracks progress and instils accountability and auditability. Apart from the obvious environmental advantages the solution offers, the value of saving time through increased efficiency, is most valuable to accountants, who work under tremendous time pressure.”

Accfin MD Mark Silberman says the integration with SignFlow “changes the state of play” in the accounting market place. “It automates the communication process. Our software allows accounting firms to communicate with their clients. The integration of SignFlow with [Accfin’s] Sky Software allows the customers of the accountant to authorise the filing of tax returns and approve company resolutions.”

Accfin, which strives to provide state-of-the-art back office systems to South African accounting firms, currently provides automation software across the sector – from large international firms, to small sole practitioners.

Van der Merwe says SignFlow is proud to be associated with Accfin Software – a company that is “definitely leading the way in automating back office systems for accounting and auditing firms”.

“SignFlow is fast becoming the most trusted digital signature workflow solution in South Africa, especially within the auditing and financial sectors,” concludes Van der Merwe.

Portfolios feature aids POPI, FICA compliance

doc dSignFlow’s secure multi-document portal, Portfolios, offers businesses a reliable means of complying with stringent regulations.

There are two well-known and much-publicised Acts that make South African businesses shudder in their shoes – the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) of 2001 and the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act of 2013.

The two pieces of legislation have much in common. To begin with, they both have to do with how your business deals with customer identification and verification processes, and how it stores and maintains customer and transactional records. Secondly, there are severe penalties associated with non-compliance – severe enough, in many cases, to cause irreparable reputational and financial damage.

Third of all – and this is the good news – SignFlow can help you comply with both. Our digital signature workflow solution offers you an efficient and sure-fire means of making sure your business processes and IT systems are up to scratch when it comes to compliance with both these Acts – so you need no longer shy away from the dreaded “F-word” and “P-word”.

Portfolios

FICA and POPI compliance largely comes down to how you transmit, maintain and store customer data and, while the sheer volume and variety of data may make the process seem very complicated, SignFlow’s Portfolios feature offers you a surprisingly simple means of tackling it.

A SignFlow Portfolio is basically a portal where you can accumulate multiple documents that have been through a workflow and signed, in combination with documents that are just uploaded and stored.

Because there is no email (which is inherently insecure) involved and all documents are uploaded through a secure, encrypted channel, to an online portal where they can only be accessed by the individuals authorised to access them, Portfolios is an invaluable tool to have in your arsenal when you are striving for FICA and/or POPI compliance.

Let’s take an insurance company, for example:

  • The company requires identification and proof of residence documents (documents required by FICA that both also have a bearing on POPI) from a client.
  • That same client needs to sign a contract, which contains personal and financial information, and send it back to the company.
  • SignFlow Portfolios enables you and your client to upload and share documents (both signed and unsigned) via an encrypted portal.
  • There is no emailing, printing or scanning of documents involved at any stage.
  • All your client’s information is kept neatly in one designated, easy-to-access and searchable databank.

Given that the implementation date for the POPI Act is expected to be set this year – and in light of the FICA failures* we have seen in the past, you are under more pressure than ever before to make sure your business complies. Contact SignFlow today for more information on how we can ease the pressure and give you total peace of mind.

* In April 2014, the South African Reserve Bank fined the country’s four largest banks R125 million collectively for failing to comply with FICA. (www.sanews.gov.za)

Goodbye ink, hello digital signatures

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With the business world turning increasingly to digitally signed documents, the hand-written signature is on its last legs.

digital-signing

With more businesses and entities than ever before turning to digitally signed documents to solve security issues and improve logistics, the value and lifespan of the hand-written signature has come under serious scrutiny.

While there is a certain sentimentality – perhaps an emotional attachment bred at school level – still attached to an individual’s unique autograph, there are overarching ideals that suggest a future without it.

In fact the hand-written or ink signature has, in recent times, been likened to landline telephones and typewriters – age-old tools that, beyond their nostalgic appeal, are on their death bed. In the corporate world, which is increasingly aspiring towards a paperless future, pen-and-paper signing has been dubbed the enemy.

Leon van der Merwe, head of digital at PBSA and co-founder of South African based digital signature solution SignFlow, believes the hand-written signature’s time is slowly but surely coming to an end. “Ink signatures have been a part of human culture for aeons and, for their time, they had their place. But with today’s technology, there is no reason for us to hang on to something that, for all intents and purposes, is about as dependable as a fake Facebook profile.”

Ink signature snags

Van der Merwe points out the biggest problem with hand-written signatures is that they can easily be forged. “There are a number of ways in which digital signatures trump hand-written ones, but the most significant and compelling feature of digital above ink is that of security.

“Digital signatures use a cryptographic operation that creates a hash-code, which is unique to both the signer and the content. It cannot be copied, forged or tampered with. The whole process provides irrefutable proof of the signer’s identity, protects the data integrity of the document and provides non-repudiation of signed documents.”

Apart from ink signatures being prone to forgery, a general attitude of inattentiveness has crept in over the years, making them quite literally a joke. This is most applicable when it comes to transaction authorisation.

“When last did you notice a waiter or retail clerk checking the signature you pen on the receipt? And do you always sign legibly and consistently?” asks Van der Merwe.

As far back as 2001, Internet humourist John Hargrave experimented with this notion in a credit card prank in which he forged outlandish signatures on receipts. He reportedly signed receipts with, among others, “Mariah Carey”, “Beethoven” and “I stole this card”. Hargrave even signed in hieroglyphics. None of the merchants noticed. (Hargrave recounts his famous Credit Card Prank in his 2007 book, Prank the Monkey)

‘Sign here’ has been replaced with ‘Click here’

Former US president Bill Clinton lent credence to the solidity of signing digitally in 2000, when he signed the first US bill into law electronically.

Renowned Amercian business magazine, Forbes, begins its article on Clinton’s watershed signing with the line, “‘Sign here’ has just been replaced with ‘click here’.”

Another turning point in the life of the digital signature took place earlier this year, in July, when the European Union effected new guidelines for electronic signatures, giving them the same legal power as hand-written signatures.

“The benefits of employing digital business processes far outweigh the paper-reliant processes of days gone by and it’s only a matter of time before digital signatures take over from their expiring ink-on-paper counterparts,” says Van der Merwe.

Not only are digital signatures undeniably more secure and unable to be forged, he concludes, they are legally sound. “Importantly, they also create a digital audit trail and they don’t rely on filing, printing, scanning or back-and-forth emailing – paper-based processes that cost companies profoundly, in terms of both time and money.”

REFERENCES

SignFlow

The Verge

New Republic

Forbes

SignFlow geolocation bolsters non-repudiation

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Just when you thought SignFlow’s watertight non-repudiation could not possibly get stronger, the team has introduced geolocation to its world-class digital signing solution.

This comes as SignFlow Version 3.0 was released in August, a move that saw significantly improved workflow functionality, comprising electronic initialling and multi-document portfolios.

The addition of geolocation adds to the already sound robustness of the solution, as the geographical location (geolocation) of the signer is recorded and added to the audit log – one of the key benefits of using a digital signing solution.

When the signer makes their digital mark on the document or documents in a workflow, their physical coordinates are immediately recorded and will display in the audit trail after the document is initialled or signed.

Locating the physical address of the signer is simple and straight-forward – simply click on the Maps Pin (inverted drop-shaped icon) to view the location on Google Maps with your browser.

This is how it works: from the audit trail in SignFlow, you will see a line tagged “Location”. Next to the location will be a Maps Pin icon. Click on the Pin and your browser will automatically open the location in a new window using Google Maps.

geolocation 1

Google recognises this detail as coordinates and opens an overview map. All you need to do then, is click on the Google Map to zoom in on the exact physical location the signer was when they signed the document.

geolocation 2

With this information in hand, the level of non-repudiation associated with the document in question is supreme.

When used in conjunction with another one of SignFlow’s recent breakthroughs – Face-to-face Signing – there is irrefutable proof that both the signee and the witness were at the same location, at the same time, when the document was signed.

SignFlow’s new geolocation is just one of the many new features developing from the team’s consistent and continual efforts to bring you the world’s leading digital signing solution.

Digital signature technology breakthrough for face-to-face signing

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face to faceThe SignFlow team has made a technological breakthrough that gives users the ability to carry out face-to-face document signing and turn a simple electronic signature into a certifiable digital signature with a full audit trail, on the fly.

Ideal for face-to-face contractual signing, the new SignFlow feature allows users to have documents signed in a face-to-face environment, with a graphical signature that is linked to the signer’s identity, cellphone number and email address. This provides the SignFlow user the opportunity to witness the signature, which – backed by a digital certificate – is 100% legal.

While the use of electronic signatures obtained via mechanisms such as handheld signature pads is commonplace, SignFlow has taken the practice to the next level and is the only solution on the market that takes an e-signature and turns it into a digital signature, with the signer’s information embedded into a digital certificate.

SignFlow Face-to-Face is not just the scribble of a signature with a mouse – it is a fully-fledged, legally certifiable digital signature with all the security and non-repudiation benefits that come with it.

On top of this, the Face-to-Face signature from SignFlow has all the auditing advantages of a digital signature – another area in which it trumps electronic signatures. This means that, after the document has been signed and the PDF downloaded, the audit trail of the person that signed can be seen in the PDF document – allowing the user to validate the person’s signature using Adobe Acrobat.

A digital signature differs fundamentally from an electronic signature. An electronic signature has no active verification capability built into it – nor does it come with a traceable audit trail – leaving it wide open to fraud and repudiation.

A digital signature, on the other hand, is created using a cryptographic operation that creates a hash-code unique to both the signer and the content, so that it cannot be copied, forged or tampered with. In this case there is strong proof of the signer’s identity, and the data integrity of the document is totally protected.

Electronic signatures vs digital signatures

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SignFlow LogoWhile many consider electronic signatures and digital signatures as interchangeable terms and, indeed, use them as such, this is not the case. In fact, the two phrases have vastly different meanings – and the respective technologies very different bearings.

Leon van der Merwe, co-founder of workflow and digital signing solution SignFlow, explains: “Depending on where you are in the world, ‘electronic’ -and ‘digital’ -signatures are often mixed in conversation and in law. Although described in unison, they are different technologies, have different meanings and in most countries carry a vastly different legal weight.”

So, what exactly is the difference?

Let’s start with the most commonly used of the two, electronic signatures. An electronic signature (also referred to as an ordinary electronic signature) can be as basic as a scanned image of a wet (hand-written) signature that is copied onto a signed document. These types of signatures are difficult to maintain and proof of identity, security, authentication and integrity is low.

Electronic signatures are often created by hardware signing devices, such as signature pads, which create an image of the signature as a person draws it on the pad.

This image is then transferred onto the document. Verifying the authenticity of the signature at a later stage is difficult and much the same as trying to verify a handwritten signature.

These signatures do not have the ability to lock documents for editing after the signing process. There is no active verification capability built into the applied signature area, leaving it open to fraud and repudiation.

On the other hand, a digital signature (also known as an advanced, standard or secure electronic signature) is based on Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology using accredited personal X.509 digital certificates to provide the highest levels of security and universal acceptance.

Digital signatures are created using a cryptographic operation that creates a hash-code unique to both the signer and the content, so that it cannot be copied, forged or tampered with.

This process provides strong proof of the signer’s identity, protects the data integrity of the document and provides non-repudiation of signed documents.

Digital signatures can be verified without the need for any special proprietary software. Depending on the format of your document, the latest versions of free Adobe Reader or Microsoft Office application can verify the signature. Simply click directly on the digital signature to view the properties, signer’s identity, time and reason for signing – all of which are embedded in the document.

SignFlow only uses Digital signature technology. Every signature on a document signed with SignFlow is a Digital signature that carries the unique cryptographic credentials of the signer.

PBSA unveils new digital signature technology

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itologoPosted by IT Online on 17 February 2016

Up to 80% paper resources reduction, an 80% decrease in power consumption, up to 90% time savings and a largely reduced usage of petroleum and diesel are all reasons PBSA (formerly Pitney Bowes SA) has launched digital signing and electronic workflow solution SignFlow.

This is according to PBSA business development manager and SignFlow co-founder Leon van der Merwe, who notes the software product – “a first in South Africa” – has now officially launched, following its BETA release in October.

This comes three years after PBSA introduced digital signatures into South Africa with its CoSign digital signature solutions. Van der Merwe says the advantage of the solution was immediately evident. “We saw the potential to drastically cut down on costs associated with printing.” He adds that about 80% of businesses’ printing is as a direct result of the need to archive and wet-ink sign documents.

But while the CoSign solution solved the problem of businesses having to print, sign, scan and email documents for signing, it did not solve the problem of documents having to be signed by multiple parties, notes Van der Merwe.

He says this is where SignFlow plugs the gap. “SignFlow was designed, using the latest X.509 cryptographic digital signature technology, to workflow documents to multiple parties that all need to sign or action a document.

“[This means] the document originator/owner can, by using SignFlow, automatically and sequentially distribute any document to multiple parties to legally sign a document through an intelligent workflow system or from any popular document management platform like Microsoft SharePoint Online or Office 365.

“By signing documents electronically with SignFlow, the electronic version of the document becomes the original,” explains Van der Merwe. “This has a huge impact on archiving of documents as it is not required at any stage to print these documents for long term archiving.

Extensive application

“The amount of money and time that businesses spend on getting documents approved and signed is staggering. Signflow bridges this gap by offering a secure digital signature workflow solution so powerful, it eliminates all the inefficient, costly processes relying on print, scan, fax, email and courier completely.”

PBSA’s SignFlow product is designed to benefit any business that signs documents or has others sign documents, contracts, mandates, agreements, etc, with the main verticals to have benefitted thus far being the financial, auditing, engineering, legal and government sectors.

While the solution has seen interest and “extremely positive” feedback primarily from the corporate world, consumers stand to benefit just as much, says Van der Merwe. “Every consumer in South Africa that has ever been asked to sign a document will benefit,” he says, citing the end of brick and mortar banks and the need to print, scan and email or fax documents as obvious advantages. He adds that there is no cost to the consumer to sign documents using SignFlow.

Ultimately, he says, PBSA would like to see every individual consumer, as well as business and government department in South Africa having access to this technology.

All-round impact

Should this goal be realised, Van der Merwe says, the implications would be immense.

According to The Paperless Project – a grassroots coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organisations work with paper and electronic content – the world produces over 300 million tons of paper each year.

“This will eradicate the need for anyone to print documents for signing ever again. [As far as the environment is concerned], this would mean paper usage in a business being cut down by up to 80%, while power consumption [will be reduced] by 80% on the devices (printers, copiers, scanning machines, etc.) that are being used to produce paper documents.”

On a macro scale, he adds, documents would be able to be electronically distributed anywhere in the world, so there would be no need for courier services – which in turn would mean reduced usage of petroleum and diesel.

On the IT infrastructure side, universal adoption of the technology would mean a significant reduction of file replication. “At present, a document in need of four signatures is typically printed and scanned four times, but it is also emailed eight times, which means there are eight different versions of the document. With SignFlow there is always just one instance of the document.

“In addition, not having to print, scan and courier documents would result in an estimated time reduction of up to 90%, noticeably increased business efficiency and an easy means of tracking progress.”

According to a survey by UK-based research company YouGov, the UK’s SMEs waste over £42,2-million per day in revenues just looking for documents.

Local tech

SignFlow comprises two core technologies, both of local origin. The cryptographic public key infrastructure was launched by PBSA in South Africa in 2014 and forms the core X.509 cryptographic infrastructure that allows users to sign digitally in SignFlow.

Secondly, the SignFlow platform itself was 100% developed in South Africa by South African developers in partnership with Jena Solutions using the latest Microsoft .Net technologies.

Speaking about the challenges of launching a new technology, Van der Merwe says – as with any new technology – the market takes time to get to understand the technology. “The technology has an impact on legal, infrastructure, security and business departments within a corporate environment, so all these departments need to be involved in the decision to implement the solution, which is something that takes time.

“We are a pinnacle point in South Africa, where the realisation of the benefits have become the new driving force, rather than just seeking latest tech.”