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US Securities and Corporate Governance

Electronic Signatures

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Nuts and Bolts of Electronic Signatures

As discussed in our November 24, 2020 post, amended Rule 302 under Regulation S-T permits the use of electronic signatures on documents “authenticating” typewritten signatures that are included in a company’s filings with the SEC, provided certain requirements are met.  The signatory first has to manually (i.e., with “wet ink”) sign a company’s form of “attestation” in which the signer agrees that the use of his or her electronic signature on authentication documents constitutes the legal equivalent of his or her manual signature for purposes of authenticating his or her signature on any filing for which it is provided.  The company’s electronic signature process must, at a minimum, also meet the following requirements as set out in updated Volume II of the SEC’s EDGAR Filer Manual:

  • require presentation of a physical, logical or digital credential that authenticates the signer’s identity;
  • reasonably provide for non-repudiation of the signature;
  • provide that the signature be attached, affixed or otherwise logically associated with the signature page or document being signed; and
  • include a timestamp to record the date and time of the signature.

As companies have begun to rely on amended Rule 302 to obtain electronic signatures on documents such as Form 10-Ks, Form 10-Qs and Section 302 and 906 certifications, here are a few of the questions and logistical issues that have arisen:

1. Are the authentication requirements met if a company emails a document for signature and asks that the recipient reply by email affirmatively indicating approval of

U.S. TriBar Committee opines on validity of electronic signatures in new comment; SEC relief on signatures on filings during COVID-19

TriBar Committee.  Last week the TriBar Opinion Committee issued a new Comment concerning the use of electronic signatures and third-party opinion letters, in response to COVID-19 and its impact on the giving of opinions on the execution of agreements signed electronically.  Although virtual closings have been the norm for some time, the Committee observed that COVID-19 has increased focus on giving opinions on the execution of agreements signed electronically. The Comment explains the legal basis for the conclusion underlying those opinions that the electronic signatures on those agreements have the same legal effect as manual signatures, focusing on the UETA and E-SIGN.

For more information on e-signing, see BCLP’s client alert on Executing U.S. Contracts While Working from Home.

SEC Relief.  On the same day, and in response to COVID -19, the SEC staff issued a statement, that while compliance with Rule 302 of Regulation S-T is still expected, they will not recommend enforcement action if:

  • the signatory retains a manually signed signature page or other document authenticating, acknowledging, or otherwise adopting his or her signature that appears in typed form within the electronic filing and provides such document, as promptly as reasonably practicable, to the filer for retention in the ordinary course pursuant to Rule 302(b);
  • such document indicates the date and time when the signature was executed; and
  • the filer establishes and maintains policies and procedures governing this process.

As one example, the statement notes that if a signatory is teleworking,

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