The Law Commission has finally published its report Electronic execution of documents
The report considers whether there are problems with the law around the electronic execution of documents and deeds which are inhibiting the use of electronic documents by commercial parties and consumers.
Under the current law, an electronic signature is capable of being used to validly execute documents, including where there is a statutory requirement for a signature.
The report sets out an option for Government to consider whether a general legislative statement about the validity of electronic signatures should be introduced in order to improve the accessibility of the law.
The Law Commission recommends that an industry working group should be established, convened by Government, to consider practical and technical issues associated with the electronic execution of documents. It also makes recommendations specifically about video witnessing of deeds and a possible future review of the law of deeds.
What we’ve shown to us is that the pensions industry is singularly unprepared for the digital world
The question that anyone active in improving e-commerce and especially financial technology is why organisations are still refusing to accept e-signatures.
In a recent proof of concept for a start-up, I sent over 150 letters of authority to insurance companies, SIPP providers and the administrators of occupational pension scheme with a simple data request from individuals wanting to share with me the contributions they had paid over the years. The requests were sent digitally using a docusign electronic signature and asked for the information in a machine readable format.
Of these requests, one was actioned digitally within 24 hours, 32 were actioned accepting the e-signature and 45 were turned down pending a wet signature, the remaining requests have resulted in a random selection of paper, PDFs and the occasional CSV or Excel file. The average turn round time has been just over four weeks and seven weeks after the request 33 of the requests are still outstanding.
What we’ve shown to us is that the pensions industry is singularly unprepared for the digital world that would be required were we to have a universal dashboard. The majority of the excuses given to us related to processes that had clearly not been reviewed since the implementation of GDPR. Giving access to data in machine readable format is now the law. GDPR isn’t just about protecting people from unwanted advances, it is about giving people the data that organisations hold on their behalf and I am afraid that most pension administrators seem to be ignoring the reasonable expectations of their customers.
Of course many customers are yet to catch up with their rights but the pensions dashboard is an interesting example of mass capitulation to the technical incompetence of one of Britain’s most data intensive industries. Put another way, people have no expectation of pensions to provide them with online information that is clear vivid and real and therefore see the prospect of a dashboard which shows them what they want to see in one place as “incredible”.
There is an ambiguity in the word, people find the prospect of the dashboard hard to believe as well as amazing! If falls into that category of Government promises such as Crossrail and HS2 where there is an allowance for non-delivery that means no-one ever expects something to arrive but when it does – people are surprised and delighted. I suspect that that is what the prospect of the pensions dashboard is for most of us.
So why is it that the pensions industry is showing itself so slow to adapt to change? If we talk to the people who provide the data necessary for pensions auto-enrolment to work they are quite familiar with the passing of data via an API, the CSV and Excel spreadsheet are fast becoming legacy, payslips are electronic and dashboards a part of everyday working life. What makes pension so special that we allow it to so significantly lag? Why this mass capitulation?
I have no good answer to this question. We are expected to provide information to Government in real time, we are able to talk with our banks using the CMA’s open banking protocols and now expect not just data but money to move from point to point in real time.
It really is time that the pensions industry, which relies on payroll and banking, came into line and started treating its customers as fairly as they are treated elsewhere.
The appalling experience that those participating in our proof of concept shows that pensions are very far from “dashboard ready” and that the reasonable requests of ordinary people for information held about them are simply not being honoured.
The standards pensions are setting themselves are the standards of a previous decade – if not a previous century. If pensions cannot work this out for themselves, perhaps it is time that those who invest into pensions started telling them.