A specialist lawyer has warned practitioners the increased use of technology in servicing clients due to the coronavirus, such as accepting electronic signatures as a document approval protocol, can increase their professional risk.
According to Coleman Greig principal lawyer Peter Bobbin, the issue can arise from the practice of sending documents to clients via email before a scheduled virtual meeting ultimately for their authorisation.
“[You] can have a client all set up, there’s a Zoom meeting happening and [the] staff are so efficient they have sent all of the material before the meeting. But then [the documents are electronically signed] and sent back with a note saying ‘I want to cancel the meeting’,” Bobbin said at the latest SMSF Association Sydney Chapter event.
“Forget the fraud issues behind that. The whole issue is if you send a [document] out and then three minutes later it gets [electronically signed], they didn’t read it.
“The point is you’re on notice they didn’t read it and that’s electronically discoverable by people like me.”
He emphasised the convenience of electronic approvals should not lead to less stringent practices in this area and that the law is already being amended to address these protocols stemming from COVID-19 restrictions.
“There have been laws that have been introduced to deal with signing of wills electronically and there’s a whole back process for that. [Also] signing powers of attorney electronically where you actually need to observe the people,” he revealed.
“You need to observe how they’re dealing with the paper in front of them, you need to confirm their ID, you need to engage with them, you then need to physically watch them sign. So it is all about being in the same room.”
Bobbin noted there is currently a distinct divide among practitioners between those using digital authorisations and those insisting on wet signatures for document approval in the current pandemic environment.
“You’ve got one part of the profession in Australia that’s doing things in a way which is conservative and protective and you have another part that is cavalier,” he said.