I read in this week’s GDN a story about the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry, which plans to start authenticating documents with electronic signatures. Finally!
Back in 1999 I was working for a company that sold pen pads and software that could create electronic signatures.
The concept was that when you signed on the pad, it not only recorded the shape of your signature but also the speed of movement and the pressure exerted at each point.
This meant that signatures could not be forged.
It is relatively easy to forge if you have time to copy the shape of someone’s signature, even my scribble, but if you have to do it in a certain time and with certain pressures then it becomes nigh on impossible.
At the time we took this concept to banks, where a large number of their customers who could not read or write would sign with an “X”.
We proved that even someone’s “X” could be made unique by recording the time and pressure used to make it.
This would have meant those customers’ signatures could not be impersonated.
However, at that time we were told the use of digital signatures was not allowed by the central bank – and so the banks continued to pass money across the counter in return for a cross.
Twenty years on, I still have to submit a wet ink signature on a form for many official purposes.
Recently, I had to submit accounts for the company I work for and they had to be signed by the directors – one lives in London and one lives in Bali.
I could have easily sent the accounts by e-mail and they could have signed them, scanned them and e-mailed them back to me. But no, that was not acceptable.
So I had to courier the accounts to London for one signature, and then again to Bali for the other one, before they were couriered back to me in Bahrain.
Good business for the courier company, but it took over two weeks.
Print, sign, scan and e-mail could have been done in a day.
Software has moved on and now fingerprint readers are everywhere.
We can move money all around the world as long as we have a user ID and password, but you still have to put a wet ink signature on a form if you go to the bank.
In other areas, the banks have not been slow to encompass the digital world and they encourage us all to do all our banking online, so they can sack all their tellers and close all their branches.
But here’s the thing, when you issued a cheque you were not charged for the transaction.
That was despite the bank having to manually process the cheque and then, if it was from another bank, physically send it to its home bank where it was manually processed again. All that cost money.
Now we go online, enter the receiving bank’s details and action the transaction.
As there are no humans involved, the cost to the bank is negligible – but they still charge us a processing fee!
Banks used to make their money from the difference in the interest rate they charged on loans and the interest rate they gave on deposits.
Now it seems they make even more money by charging fees on everything for their long-suffering customers.
I am glad to see that, finally, the government is catching up with technology.
It’s a pity that it’s 20 years too late.