Mobile Implementation of Electronic Signature – The Experts Speak

ESRA gathered several industry experts to discuss the ever-changing landscape with regards to electronic signatures and mobile devices.

The participants were:

David Brinkman, CEO, AssureSign

Grace Powers, Associate General Counsel, Bank of America

Richard Grisham, AVP of Solutions, iPipeline

“We’re here to talk about the past, present, and future of what mobility means for e-signatures,” Grisham said by way of kicking off the discussion. His first question was for Powers: “When did mobility become part of the landscape as far as what you do?”

Powers responded that when she first started thinking about e-signatures at Bank of America in 2004, the goal was to enable the “pajama and bunny slippers” mortgage that could be completed from the luxury of one’s home. “Mobility wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye then,” she said.

Grisham then directed the same question to Brinkman, who replied: “We started looking at mobility as a demand from our users. It takes on two different shapes here: When you look at the iPad, that is similar to the desktop experience, and the original iPhone changed everything. The iPhone was neat but it was really small, and we said: ‘Who is going to sign something on this thing?'”

The participants and the audience members chuckled and Brinkman continued: “It was hard to get momentum within the organization, so we started looking at user adoption. We see that pick up and then decided in 2011 that we needed to start doing something by putting mobile in the product road map.”

Grisham noted that mobility was ignored in his field, annuities and life insurance, for a long time because consumers didn’t use those products much. He recalled: “I remember having arguments with senior executives about exploring mobility, and one of them held up his phone and said, ‘No one is going to sign a life insurance policy on a phone!'”

In the Beginning

He then moved on to inquire about actions taken at the panel participants’ companies, starting with Powers. She said: “We started trying to figure out what customers would want to do on their mobile devices, with those small screens. We tried to wade into the waters and released text banking at first. It was low level. We wanted to see how that was working, since our online banking website was still growing.”

She added: “But when the app stores started coming into play, we knew we needed to create a mobile banking app.”

Grisham then turned to Brinkman, who said: “I’d like to say we got it right, but we didn’t. I have a passion for what my company does from a technology standpoint. We looked at mobile back then and saw a lot of mobile-designed sites, like, and that’s where we started. We had the administrative side of our software and the user side and decided to focus on the latter because that’s where most of the transactions were.

“We would code to desktop and to a mobile device at first. Those were our first conversations, which were painful. We tried to figure out what a mobile device was, so we would do browser sniffing. That’s entirely irrelevant now, but that’s how we set our course.”

Grisham noted that his company initially implemented click to sign, which worked well only on Internet Explorer. As Macs became more prevalent, complaints began filtering in, and when it became clear that Mac sales were growing, his company added Safari browser support, which paid off when the iPad was released. “That’s when we saw a dramatic uptick,” he said.

“It’s always good when you can make an investment and don’t know it’s a future investment,” Brinkman added.

The Move to Mobile-First

Grisham then turned to Powers again with his next line of query: “When did you start implementing mobile-first?”

“It was probably around 2009 or 2010,” she replied. “We had mobile web but we were handcuffed to the PC, so we had to funnel everyone to the online website for everything before they could use the mobile website. We knew we needed a mobile-first solution in our app so our customers could sign in there, as long as they were current customers, and get all the disclosures.

“So we had to work with all our internal stakeholders and get in a room and figure this out so we could bring the app to fruition. We were one of the first banks to release a self-service mobile enrollment in 2014.”

Brinkman said: “There were two massive shifts for us: the try and the re-try. We looked at the mobile environment through browser sniffing to figure out what devices users were on. We had a dichotomy where we were coding for two environments, which lengthened development cycles. Or we had to release on one environment first and then the other.

“The pain made us realize this was the wrong path. The devices were changing. That’s when we got together and talked about ‘technical debt,’ all the stuff you’ve put in in the past and now dragging forward because you don’t have the opportunity to bring it into the new environment.

“What we saw were trends that we continued to confirm, such as the adoption of the mobile environment, and we finally went mobile-first. We assumed everyone was on mobile and addressed that.

“There were two major shifts: One was that we went to responsive design, and the other was that we went to an agile development environment where we released every two to three weeks. That helped us prioritize everything.”

Grisham noted that in his industry, people were used to doing everything a certain way, and many agents and financial advisors had trouble moving to phones and tablets because they had already dealt with the shift to digital. However, in 2011 or 2012, his company started hearing something different, particularly around the use of tablets by insurance professionals.

At that point, we organized our technology stack around responsive design and a mobile-first mentality,” he said. “We had built a lot of our own technology, but we had to make a choice: Do we keep building everything ourselves or do we license some technology so we could go mobile-first? We went with a mix of the two.”

Of Vendors and Libraries

That led to Grisham’s next topic, regarding software development, and Powers responded: “When we were looking at the mobile app, there were obviously app developers out there, so to go to market quickly, it’s better to partner with a vendor. But as we learned to develop mobile apps, we took it internal. We learned from them first.”

Brinkman took his turn at the same subject: “As a software company, we recognize our strengths and weaknesses. One area where you don’t want to spend time involves the libraries you want to include, particularly user interface libraries. We wanted a library for things like what happens when you move your finger on the screen.

“We’ve kept our development in-house, but we used libraries for a lot of the user interface things. That wheel changes so fast, too: A developer can easily fall out f favor if they don’t keep up with the latest changes.”

Mobile-First Risks

The next subject centered on risks. Powers said, “Our biggest concern was the lack of regulatory guidance. Most of what we had was around PCs and emails. The question came up with regulators regarding meeting requirements on a mobile device, and they punted. We considered the situation, especially since our disclosures were 30 or 40 pages, which would be tough to print or save on a mobile device at that time. We ended up emailing the disclosures to solve that problem.”

Brinkman said: “As you look back at your decision points, you’re comfortable with how you think the future will be, and then the future happens and it’s different. That’s the main issue for us, trying to keep up with that. And you may need to skip a cycle. If a cycle happens every six months, you may need to skip one and stay current with the next one.”

Grisham said that his community was concerned about fraud. “We realized a couple things, though,” he said. “In the case of a life insurance policy, there are multiple artifacts in the sale, including a medical examination. So if someone is in court claiming that they didn’t sign up for a policy, we have enough evidence saying that they did.

“When it comes to agent fraud, the concern was that if we put power in the hands of agents, they could sign people up for life insurance under fake email addresses, collect their commissions, and disappear. However, we can keep up with what they’re doing almost in real-time and monitor the agents’ behavior. We can see a lot of information, such as IP addresses, sign and date something was signed, and so forth, so it’s harder for them to commit fraud.”

Opportunities and Challenges

Grisham then turned to opportunities and challenges in the space. Powers said:” The great opportunities are creating parity between all our channels. The mobile banking app, for example, doesn’t do everything our website does. There’s still a gap. And the technological advances are so rapid, and customers demand we support multiple platforms, so that’s a huge challenge.

“To code different channels to be accessible on computers, tablets, phones, and so forth requires a huge outlay of resources and time. And the other challenge is that there’s a lot more focus from regulators on commerce itself. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t regulate banks, but it does enforce advertising guidelines and so forth.

“What was interesting was that in their dot-com disclosure, they said if you can’t make a disclosure clear and conspicuous on a mobile device, then don’t market that service on that channel. And the other interesting piece was that the expected companies to collect analytics about whether customers were clicking certain disclosures to ensure delivery.”

For his turn, Brinkman said: “I think that they may be the same, especially with regard to user behavior. The younger generation, which is becoming more relevant in a transaction where you’re signing documents electronically, have a different mindset in how they view the world.

“The challenge and opportunity are the same: Make sure your technology adapts to your user base, which is changing. They’re learning new behaviors, and a lot of that is being brought on by the younger generation looking at things in a new way and device manufacturers accommodating that.

“The other challenges are around ADA, privacy, and data security. Those are huge. You can’t just think that once you’ve done it, it’s done. And we’re looking at things like blockchain. How do you deal with things like that? How do you ensure you’re not redoing a lot of work?”

Grisham noted that his company’s biggest challenges and opportunities were the same. “Our typical user is a financial advisor or agent, and the successful ones are in their mid-40s to their 60s, and they tend to be the most technologically challenged of the workforce. Not unable to use, but technologically challenged. But the young people in need of life insurance can’t imagine filling out paper applications, so there’s a disconnect there.

“The flip to that is the people entering the market to become financial avdisors and life insurance agents don’t want to sell it the way it’s been sold for 200 years. Part of the recruiting plan is to let them know that technology is there for them.”


The panel discussion concluded with an audience question about meeting the requirement that disclosures be clear and conspicuous, which is tough on mobile devices with small screens.

Grisham and Powers said that in their industries, they email the documents to meet the requirement. Powers added: “It’s a matter of looking at customer experience and guessing where regulators would fall. I’m not sure where they are with loans, for example. Truth in Lending has specific requirements. Even on my iPhone 6, it would be small.”

Margo Tank, a partner at BuckleySandler LLP who has been a major part of the e-signature world, was in the audience and Grisham turned to her for more on the subject. She noted: “You need to make the information make sense. Use jump links wherever you can and make it user friendly in general. Provide forms in a safe harbor way. There really aren’t many regulatory pronouncements on the subject, unfortunately.”