All the different electronic signature methods explained

Electronic signature methods

When searching for an electronic signature solution or when signing documents electronically you might have noticed that many different electronic signature methods exist. It varies from simple methods like an approval button or a handwritten signature to more advanced or even qualified and therefore very secure signing methods like for example signing with a national electronic ID card. In this blog, we want to give you more insights in which electronic signature methods you can start using today.


What you need to know is that, depending on the electronic signature method, a signing process is often preceded by user authentication. This is the process of verifying someone´s credentials prior to giving access to a system – in this case, signing electronically.

Authentication contributes to the enforceability of signed documents as it validates with whom a company, organization or institution is transacting with. Whether or not a company decides to ask for an authentication during the signing process will depend on the value of the transaction and the trade-off with user experience.

Although authentication doesn’t necessarily mean a more cumbersome user experience it is still more complex and demands more from the user than a simple scribble with the finger on a smartphone or desktop.

Below you will find an non-exhaustive overview of some common used electronic signature methods. 

DISCLAIMER: The information in this section is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Connective does not guarantee the information contained herein is up-to-date or accurate nor we make any statements on the legal validity of signing methods. Please note legislation governing electronic signatures is changing quickly and can differ in each jurisdiction. If you have questions about the content or statements made in this section, or about whether Connective’s solutions fit the needs of your organization, please reach out to a legal professional in your region.

Electronic signature methods without authentication

Manual scribble

A basic, manual signature can be drawn on-screen by simply using your mouse or touchpad or using your fingers or a stylus on a touchscreen. This is also considered as an electronic signature.

Handwritten signature

With this signing method you type in your name using your keyboard. You will then be able to choose from different preconfigured handwritten fonts to represent your signature.

Approval button

A simple click with your mouse on an approval button. This results in an approval signature.

Electronic signature methods with authentication

Biometric signature

To sign with a biometric signature a biometric signature pad or biometric pen is required. The signature pad and biometric pen allow to capture the biometrical characteristics of a signature, like where the pen is located, when the pen tip is pressed down, and how hard it is pressed down. These biometric data are added to the signature, creating a unique biometric signature profile, which would allow the signature pad manufacturer to verify the authenticity of the signature when required.

Signing with a smartcard or token (USB)

The most commonly known kind of smartcard that can be used for electronic signing is the (national) electronic identity card of a country like for example LuxID, Estonian ID, .beID,… Other specific examples of smartcards are the Belgian Lawyer ID, the Common Access Card (CAC) or the Personal Identity Verification Card (PIV) in the USA, and many more.

This smart card contains a personal certificate with a private key which is issued by a qualified provider. In order to sign documents, the signer has to put the smartcard in the card reader or insert the token in the USB port and enter his or her personal PIN code to authenticate him or herself.

Login and password (including SSO)

  • In some onboarding processes a user identifies himself by choosing his username (often email address) and password and sometimes by filling in some extra information. These credentials can be used to authenticate himself when signing documents electronically.

  • If you want to go for a more secure login and password solution for signing, solutions like Swisscom enforce a one-time identification via Face2Face or video to ensure the signers identity. Afterwards the signer can choose to either create a login and password combination to reuse
    for authentication purposes or on the signer can choose to authenticate himself via a mobile application. Thanks to the previous identification, a personal certificate will be linked to the identity, which makes it much more secure resulting in advanced and qualified electronic signatures.

  • Also, the SSO (Single-Sign-On) principle is an example of signing with the login and password signing method. A person can use their credentials that are used to login to a company’s platform to sign documents. This is often combined with a multifactor authentication.

One-time password (OTP) via sms or email

When signing with an SMT OTP the mobile phone number of the signers must be known. In the signing process they will need to enter the last four digits of their phone number. In return, they’ll receive a one-time password via SMS which is needed to authenticate themselves.

In case of an Email OTP, the email address of the signer is needed. The signer needs to complete the email address. In return, a password will be sent to that address which is needed for the authentication.

Mobile identities

A mobile identity refers to a person’s digital identity, and the technology used to manage it, meaning an application on a smartphone, tablet or other wearable technology.

A most common use case is that a user first creates his/ her mobile identity via an onboarding process. This can for example be by identification via an electronic id card or via the bank login methods. Afterwards the user creates a password that will be linked to his/her mobile ID. Once the Mobile identity is created it can be used for authentication in for example an electronic signature process. An example of a mobile identity is itsme® in Belgium. Because of the fact that the onboarding is related to the ID card or the banks KYC this becomes a very powerful signing method resulting in advanced or qualified signatures.

Public and governmental initiatives

To access secure online government applications, some governments created authentication services. These authentication means can in some cases also be used in a signing process to electronically sign documents in a secure way.

E.g. FranceConnect, FAS Belgium, MitID (Former NemID),…

Bank authentication (sometimes in combination with MNO´s = Mobile Network Operators)

In some countries there are also bank initiatives that create your personal electronic ID for secure identification. The bank identity can either be mobile where your identity is stored on your mobile SIM card or otherwise via a hardware authenticator like bank card readers or one-button authenticators, …

Bank identities are also a perfect method to sign documents in an electronical way. Some examples are iDIN, Bank ID Norway, Bank ID Sweden, Finish Trust Network and many more.

Biometric authentication

Before signing, a secure authentication process can be done that relies on the unique biological characteristics of individuals to check they are who they say they are. These biological characteristics are for example voice, facial characteristics, and fingerprints. After you are sure about the identity of the person the document can be signed electronically. The biometric authentication will be captured in document audit trails which counts as proof of a safe, secure, legally-binding Electronic signature.

Eg. SmileID of Electronic ID, FaceID of Apple, …

So unlike on paper, there are many different ways to sign digital transactions. Each type has a different level of evidential power and legality, each type has its own unique user experience. We at Connective offers you a vast selection of electronic signature methods for your convenience. 

If you would like to know more about electronic signatures, download our guide to electronic signatures via the form below or contact us

Download our guide to electronic signatures!

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