Going Paperless: Remote Notaries, eNotaries, and Overcoming the Final 10%


Recently, I wrote an article about going paperless where I cautioned users to be realistic about setting goals about how paperless they can truly be. I shared that many times people state they wish to go paperless but forget about the 90/10 rule. That is, you can get 90% of the way to going paperless quickly, but that last 10% will be the struggle and perhaps even stop you in your tracks. I suppose some thought that for a man who makes his living from electronic documents, I was being pessimistic. However, the opposite is true. I’m very optimistic (but also very practical). Let’s look at an example of why the 10% is so difficult to overcome.

Recently I signed a loan on paper (I know…gag!) but the reason was simple: the credit union needed to have my signature and my spouse’s signature notarized. I told the credit union employee conducting the signing event that I was looking forward to the day they decided to leverage a remote notary process, to which I was met with a bewildered look and the response, “That’s a thing?” After sharing that Michigan has an eNotary/remote notary law, the employee simply said, “Huh, we’ll have to look into that.”

eNotary and remote notary, whats the difference?

Much like the credit union employee, you might be shocked to learn this process exists, so before we go any farther, let’s establish some vernacular. An eNotary event or electronic notarization is where the signer appears in person in front of a notary that witnesses their electronic signature on a document performed via an electronic device such as a signature pad (similar to what you might utilize at a retailer). Currently, there are 36 states that permit eNotarization according to DocVerify, a technology provider of eNotarization solutions.

A remote notarization is where a signer “appears” (via a webcam or similar technology) in front of a notary to sign their documents remotely. According to the National Notary Association website, by the end of 2020, 22 states will have laws to support remote notarization.

The great hurdle: the last 10%

It’s easy to assume that because 22 states have or are in the process of implementing remote notary, that it will be easy to take that paperless step. But here’s the deal: as exciting as it is, remote notarization is not quite ready for “prime time.” While the process has begun, it’s still only in the beginning stages of its implementation. This serves as a great example of why people can’t quite seem to get over the finish line with that goal of paperless.

Remember when eSign was just getting legs? This is the same thing. As with any other new technology or law, it takes time to get implemented, vetted, and for people to accept and finally adopt it. Even if a state does have it implemented (remembering that 28 sates don’t have this option yet), it’s up to individual credit unions and businesses to accept or adopt it, meaning some may be stuck with that paper. In addition, each state with approved eNotary/remote notary may and likely will have unique caveats that must be overcome. To use Michigan as an example, to perform an eNotarization you must use one of just four approved technical solutions. Conditions such as these can make it more difficult to adopt this paperless method.

Not all hope is lost!

But cheer up! Remember, I just said business and legislators are working on removing these obstacles for achieving a paperless process. Why? It’s very expensive to have staff leave the office just to get signatures for documents and corral a notary in the process. Enter the motivation and as the adage goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” I like to take that a bit further and say, “And where there’s money, there’s a will!” Hang in there and keep your ear to the ground as this technology makes its way through the adoption labyrinth on its way to mainstream. Just be realistic: focus on the 90 while keeping your eye on the 10 as you work your way to 100!


  • Rick Burden#1

    January 31, 2020

    The bigger question is just why do states still require notarization? This antiquated process really has no place in the modern electronic world. If our state legislators want to really earn their pay, they would eliminate notary requirements from many transactions. For example, no notary is required to sign a $1 million promissory note but a $1,000 mortgage document needs a notary – and usually an in-person notary with an ink pad and hand stamp. The Notary bond is just a monetary guarantee the notary checked the identification yet eSignatures on promissory notes have been accepted as genuine by all the courts in the US. We need to start figuring a way to eliminate the need for a Notary.


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