FAQs about electronic signatures
In this article, you’ll find answers to the most frequently asked questions about electronic signatures.
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What is an electronic signature?
According to the Swiss Federal Act on Electronic Signatures (ESigA), at least the following must be present: "Electronic data that is attached to or can be logically connected with other data and is intended to authenticate said other data."
In plain English: under the right conditions, an electronic signature is the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature. It is an easy – and, depending on the signature standard and relevant formal requirements, legally valid – method of signing digital documents.
Do the terms electronic and digital signature mean the same thing?
No. Despite often being used as synonyms in everyday speech, the two terms don’t actually mean the same thing.
An electronic signature is a signature used to digitally sign documents. The electronic signature is therefore the product you can obtain from SwissSign through, for example, three different signature solutions.
The term digital signature refers solely to a cryptographic procedure. This procedure can be used to compute and assign a value to specific data. This value makes it possible to check the integrity of the data – in other words, to check whether the data has been changed retroactively.
What electronic signatures are there?
There are three basic signature standards:
- Simple electronic signature (SES)
- Advanced electronic signature (AES)
- Qualified electronic signature (QES)
To find out how they differ, read this article.
What documents can be signed electronically?
Unless the law specifies otherwise, all contracts can be signed electronically. Some exceptions include holographic wills and contracts that require notarisation.
Which signature standard is necessary depends on the type of document and on any formal requirement set out by a statute or by other means. If you are unsure which standard you need, we recommend obtaining legal advice.
What are the advantages of electronic signatures?
The signing process is paperless and eliminates the need to switch between media.
There is less administrative overhead.
You and your counterparty can sign from any place and at any time. Legal transactions can be completed 24/7.
Electronic signatures do not degrade in quality over time (no fading like with handwritten signatures).
Electronic signatures are easy to integrate into existing company processes and workflows. For examples, have a look at our reference cases.
Who can sign electronically?
Anyone who wants to issue (qualified) electronic signatures must have a verified digital identity. SwissSign offers identity verification free of charge through, for example, our SwissID App.
What does an electronic signature look like? Can it be personalised?
SwissID Sign’s standard signature includes the full name of the signatory – as shown in their identity document – and the date and type of signature. However, electronic signatures can be personalised. For example, you can add your company logo or an image of your handwritten signature.
How much does an electronic signature cost?
Prices of electronic signatures depend on the signature standard and the provider. It’s important to note that at SwissSign, the person who invites the signatory to sign generally pays the costs.
Good to know: the first five signatures are free for new SwissID Sign customers. This gives you the chance to try out our signature service with no obligations.Activate SwissID Sign
How can an electronic signature be verified?
If an electronic signature is compatible with Adobe, it can be validated directly in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Alternatively, you can verify qualified electronic signatures using the federal government’s Validator service at validator.ch.
Is an electronic signature legally valid? Is an electronic signature probative?
In Switzerland, provided that the requirements of Art. 14(2)bis Swiss Code of Obligations are met, a qualified electronic signature is equivalent to a handwritten signature and has the same legal effect. A simple or advanced electronic signature, on the other hand, can only be legally valid if there is no formal requirement for the document.
As for probative value: the higher the signature standard, the more probative the signature.
Is an electronic signature secure?
Yes, electronic signatures are generally very secure. They are protected by a range of regulatory and technical measures.
Are electronic signatures also valid abroad?
Both Swiss (ESigA) and EU (eIDAS) law recognise a qualified electronic signature. However, their definition of it is not exactly the same. For this reason, the signatures are only recognised according to the respective law.
Good to know: SwissID Sign is expected to offer an eIDAS-compliant signature before the end of 2024.
Is an electronic signature equivalent to a handwritten signature?
The qualified electronic signature (QES) is equivalent to a handwritten signature if the requirements of Art. 14 (2)bis of the Swiss Code of Obligations are met.
Is a combination of electronic and handwritten signatures allowed?
That depends on the type of document. If it is subject to a formal requirement (e.g. "written form"), combined signatures (QES + scanned signature or print-out of QES + original signature) are not valid.
If there are no formal requirements, a combined signature would be permitted and generally legally binding.
Can emails be signed electronically?
The SwissSign signature solutions allow you to sign PDF documents. If you want to sign emails, you need an email certificate – also known as a S/MIME certificate.
SwissSign offers several signature solutions. How do I choose the right one?
The choice of the right signature model (ready-to-go, integrated solution or on-premise solution) depends on your needs as a private individual or company:
Ready-to-go: For private individuals and SMEs with a low volume of signatures – no integration needed
Integration solution: For SMEs and larger companies with a high volume of signatures – integration into existing workflows and processes through an API
On-premise solution: For companies who want to keep documents within their own IT environment – installation on premises or in a private cloud