“Just sign here” – three words that signify the completion of a business transaction, especially when you’re dealing with a bank. But at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), those words have taken on a new meaning after the sales team has adopted eSignature technology.

Since the end of January, RBC’s investment sales team has been closing the deal digitally with the help of software from Montreal-based Silanis Technology. Instead of printing a volumous agreement for a client to put wet ink on, only to rescan it into the digital enterprise content management (ECM) system later, the signature is captured on a digital pad. Not only is the new process saving a lot of dead trees, it’s also saving RBC’s 8,000-person sales force a lot of time.

“During peak periods we’d be saving two to three hours per week per advisor,” says Keith Wilson, the senior manager of sales force technology enablement at RBC. “So if we have about 8,000 advisors that is about 24,000 hours per week in time saved. That’s a significant amount.”

The time savings comes in the automated process-checking done by the software. Silanis’ e-SignLive not only captures a signature digitally, but it allows mandatory fields to be identified. That way, a sales person can’t move forward in the process until they ask a person for their John Hancock. The software also ensures dates written next to the signatures are always correct.

Silanis' solution is available on mobile formats and laptops or desktops too.
Silanis’ solution is available on mobile formats and laptops or desktops too.

At first, RBC rolled out a trial period to 1,000 of its salespeople late last year. They were using Lenovo tablets running Windows XP and having customers sign directly on the touch-sensitive tablets. But in practice they decided it was better to rollout the solution with a USB peripheral that customers can sign on with a stylus.

The sales person “can pass it across the desk to the client rather than the client coming around and trying to sign the tablet,” Wilson explains. Typically the tablets are hooked to a dock with a mouse and keyboard in the office, he adds, though sales people have the option of going mobile when they need to meet a client elsewhere.

The process has become the new normal for RBC, which has eliminated paper from investment sales entirely unless a customer requests a paper record of the deal. But Wilson says that most customers see the lack of paper to file as a burden that’s being lifted. No doubt a path that’s been paved by digital signatures in the retail environment.

“It’s like when you walk into the Apple store and you have to sign something, they bring out the iPad and you sign that,” he says. “it’s just the way we do investment banking at RBC.”

RBC had a few more regulatory hurdles to jump with its implementation of eSignatures. As the first bank in Canada to use the technology, Wilson says they discussed with the Canada Revenue Agency and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and received their blessing to go ahead. An important aspect of getting the approval is that RBC made clear the process is still guided by a human advisor, not software that a customer independently uses to complete a transaction.

The only real problem that’s cropped up with eSignatures so far, according to Wilson, is related to mobile connectivity issues. If a salesperson can’t connect to the bank’s ECM to access a document, then they can’t collect a signature on it. But that happens rarely, especially since the full roll-out of the program adopted LTE-connected devices, Wilson says.

RBC is sufficiently impressed with eSignatures that its looking to expand it to its other lines of business, Wilson says.

“It gives us the precedent to say ‘what other non face-to-face transactions can we take advantage of?;” he says. “There’s many different flavours of how eSignatures can be deployed in a financial institution and we’re just at the tip of it right now.”

This fall, RBC customers could be completing the opening of a new bank account without having to leave their homes thanks to eSignatures. It could help some Canadians avoid that trip in to the local branch only to hear the teller chirp “just sign here.”

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