Paper is expensive to handle and banks have long hoped for its elimination. But for many reasons - legal uncertainties, lack of technology standards, and mistrust by consumers - the "wet" signature has persisted, holding back the migration of paper documents to electronic form. However, the logjam may soon end. The Confederacion Espanola de Cajas de Ahorros (CECA, or The Spanish Confederation of Savings Banks) has rolled out its "Firma Digitalizada" project, a.k.a. Digitalized Signature for Financial Sector Branches, which is quickly exceeding its goals for 2009.

CECA is the national association of 45 major Spanish savings banks, which represent more than 50 percent of the Spanish banking market. Santiago Uriel Arias, CIO of CECA, says the digital signature program was developed at the request of members, which funded the project. By mid-November the technology had been deployed at 17 banks across 3,200 branches and involved 12 million transactions.

Bank customers can choose to sign a document with either a biometric handwritten signature or Smartcard. The documents then have the electronic signature embedded and stored, ready for verification at any time. The switch to digital signature saves 3 euro cents per document, Arias estimates, and a medium-sized savings bank should see ROI in eight to 10 months.

CECA's success suggests barriers to digital-signature adoption are falling. First, consumers are more comfortable with digital signatures due to retail use. Second, CECA spent time and money to develop legal opinions defending digital signatures. Finally, CECA's large membership gives its digital signature technology momentum to becoming a common standard.

According to Gartner, "Participation levels have been high and beyond expectation. The solution is being sold to institutions outside the CECA membership, with a number of other major banking groups in the Spanish market, as well as a number of nonbanking institutions, such as telecom companies, retailers and government agencies, committing to the service."

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