Swedish Handelsbanken: Effciency and customer orientation by integrating electronic signatures

The Swedish Handelsbanken is one of the largest banks in Sweden. 436 branches all across the country take care of private and business clients. The bank puts a high focus on its customer satisfaction. In every day banking, this means that the client should always have the choice in which way he gets in touch with the bank: via phone, online or personally in a branch. In order to get rid of paper-bound processes, Handelsbanken decided to integrate electronic handwritten signatures as part of a fully digital work ow.

Paper-bound processes consume time and money – and have major disadvantages

Mikael From is a Business Architect at Handelsbanken, which acts decentralized, so each branch acts as an independent unit. He has an important job when it comes to standardizing business processes. His job is to overlook the existing processes and make sure that new ones work for the bank as a whole. The target is that Handelsbanken is able to give a unique, consistent customer experience – which should at the same time be user-friendly and efficient. No easy task when faced with a variety of different processes and authorizations, which all imply using paper. Depending on the kind of process, up to 150 pages of paper for the client, 50 pages for archiving were involved and 46 client signatures were needed. For the bank, this meant a lot of time and money. In addition, paper processes are prone to mistakes. As Mikael From puts it: “Our job is to make sure that the right information gets to the right person. If you put a piece of paper in the wrong place, it is as bad as putting it in the bin. You don’t have any chance of finding it later on.”

This situation was the starting point of the search for a solution, which was more efficient, was able to create the right customer experience and fulfill legal requirements at the same time. From day one, it was clear that the new processes had to be digital. Thus, the team looked into different solutions: Iris scan, fingerprint or facial recognition and started with a logon card, which customers could use in the branch to sign certain transactions. All solutions where rated not only from the practical and legal aspect, but also included the question of “Would our customer accept this solution?” The logon card was the first step into the digital world. But soon it proved that it had two major downsides: Firstly, it was not able to become completely paper-free with the card. Secondly, the solution depends on the customer bringing a device with him to the branch.

As the personal signature is a crucial part in all banking processes, Mikael From also checked solutions, which would integrate the personal, handwritten signature into the digital workflow. Soon, the advantage of the signature became clear: Using one’s signature for authorization has been existing for thousands of years, regardless of age or culture. Thus, customer acceptance would not be a problem. In the same way, the handwritten signature has the important benefit that it can be done with a flexible signing device. There is no need for a fixed setup, which could limit the use as for example with the logon card.

Another factor added on to the decision to use the electronic signatures: If somebody signs electronically with his own handwriting, the confirmation of intent is clear. Afterwards, there is no chance of any repudiation or deniability. This makes the electronic signature legally binding in authorization processes. In order to ensure this legal security, it is important that the system not only takes an image of the signature, but also records biometric data such as pressure or speed of writing. This is also important from the IT-security side: The signature is stored together with important data such as the time and date of processing. This means that it is safe against fraud.

Step-by-step project to ensure the highest possible success

Based on its high usability and security, Handelsbanken drew up a list of criteria, which an electronic signature solution needed to fulfill. First on its list was the reliability of the solution. As there are thousands of signatures, which need to be done day by day, the robustness of the hardware is an important asset. Also, the solution should have an international, preferably bank-related track record and finally, it should stick to an ISO-standardization on how the signature is written.

Rather soon, Handelsbanken came across Wacom signature pads with SIGNificant software which allow an easy and seamless integration while ensuring standard conformity. Banks such as Unicredit in Italy, Savings banks in Germany, or Bred in France are already successfully using signature solutions based on Wacom hardware. A Wacom signature pad with the SIGNificant integration layer became the solution of choice. The tablet is small and robust. It features a hard surface, which was an important feature for Handelsbanken. The product has a long product lifetime and a low return rate, guaranteeing a fast return-on-invest. The SIGNificant software layer allows not only a fast, secure and seamless integration into Handelsbanken’s own Web applications, but also ensure full compliancy to the biometric signature data exchange standard ISO/IEC 19794-7.

As Handelsbanken is a decentral organization, the IT team needed the branches’ buy-in to the new solution. Thus, the team went for a step-by-step approach.

First of all, they conducted a workshop with the central question of how an approval process should generally look like. Based on the findings, a prototype was programmed. The software integration layer was provided by Wacom’s partner Xyzmo, recently bought by Namiral GmbH. This solution prototype was taken on a roadshow to branches in all regions of Sweden. Mikael From: “It was important for us that the branches accepted our solution. But it was easy to convince them, we got a very good feedback.” Handelsbanken also integrated some customers into their roadshow. The prototype was slightly adapted after the roadshow based on the feedback from the branches.

Today, about 3,600 signature pads have been installed all across Sweden. 80 per cent of all processes where you can sign electronically are done by using the Wacom signature pads instead of pen and paper. The digitalization of the rest is part of the future planning of Handelsbanken. The signing process is very transparent for the customer. The Handelsbanken employee first shows the customer what he is going in today’s meeting. Then, the customer signs everything. Instead of printing and handing over a lot of paper, all documents are sent to the customer’s electronic mailbox, which every Handelsbanken customer has.

For Mikael From, the project has been a complete success: “Integrating the electronic signature has not been an isolated process. Instead, the electronic signature is a integrated process, which works together with all other processes within the bank.” Besides creating this generic process, Wacom’s signature pads have had significant effects on Handelsbanken’s business.

The most obvious effect is the savings that Handelsbanken managed to make – savings in time as well as money. As Mikael From puts it: “Saving time in a customer meeting is a crucial part. If 20 minutes of a one-hour customer meeting are taken up by administration, this is too much. With the electronic signature, we have gained time for our customers.” Financial savings are closely linked to saving paper, printers and printing materials. It is hard to give an exact calculation, but Mikael From is sure that these savings will quickly pay for the investments done into the electronic signature solution.

Also, Wacom’s signature pads have contributed largely to a fast change in behavior of Handelsbanken’s customers. Most of them make use of the electronic handwritten signature and its possibilities rather than signing the traditional way.