Australia’s peak banking services body, the ABA, has joined business and real estate authorities in calling on governments to permanently legislate the use of e-signature and e-document services introduced at the height of Australia’s initial Covid outbreak.
Lenders from across Australia introduced a raft of new remote-accessible customer identification, verification, and digital document services over the preceding months to align with mandated Covid restrictions, allowing applicants to witness official documents over a video call or verify documents electronically in lieu of in-person ‘wet signatures’.
To support customers during the Covid lockdowns, lenders have been quick to roll out either in-house developed verification platforms or, in the case of many challenger institutions, adopt third-party electronic signature platforms such as ApplyOnline (at the broker end) and DocuSign (at the customer end).
The banking and business coalition has urged not only financial services institutions, but also governments to ensure the permanent adoption of these remote access-friendly technologies in a bid to reduce costs and ease transaction processing for customers.
Beyond the original mortgage-specific e-verification and processing services made available, the group has also called upon governments to permit the use of e-signing and e-identification for deeds, as well as a broader range of legal and business documents, including guarantees, statutory declarations and trust deeds.
ABA chief executive Anna Bligh, a former Queensland Premier, praised state and Federal governments for “moving swiftly during Covid-19 to use their emergency powers to facilitate these e-transactions”.
However, she urged policymakers to “make these changes permanent”, and obviate the burdensome requirement for ‘in-person’ signatures and paper documents, to “keep the ease, keep the lower cost and reduce the hassle of [these] transactions”.
Following official COVID Regulations enacted by authorities, the Federal, NSW, Victorian, Queensland, Tasmanian, and South Australian governments swiftly legislated temporary modifications to rules for accepting signatures on certain contracts, paving the way for lenders to introduce e-signature and e-verification services for mortgage documents.
NSW, however, remains the only state to extend electronic verification to deeds.
While electronic signatures have been recognised in Australia for more than 20 years under the Electronic Transactions Act, the acceptance of digital signatures by state-operated Land Title officers remains inconsistent. While Victoria and NSW explicitly allow for electronic signatures, several other jurisdictions still require ‘wet ink’ signatures.
With many anticipating a ‘second wave’ of mass coronavirus infections to hit Australia, the Government may have its hand forced in fast-tracking legislation to permit the permanent use of e-verification.
The ABA was joined by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Council of Small Business Organisations, the Financial Services Council, the Real Estate Institute of NSW and the Australian Property Institute urging national cabinet to adopt the changes.