Click On The Dotted Line

It's a sign for the times: The digital signature has arrived. Now, you can sign legally binding financial documents, contracts, or purchase orders without ever putting pen to paper--if both sides are set up for it.

How does it work? The most common way is for each party to get its own "digital certificate," a piece of code that identifies the sender. If you're working with a big company, they'll send the code to you. Otherwise, both sides need to download a certificate from a "certificate authority." The leader, VeriSign (, charges $14.95 annually. After that, just click on an icon and enter a PIN.

Gartner Group predicts that by 2004, digital signatures will be used in 10% of business-to-consumer transactions, and B2B use should grow faster. Banks, law firms, real estate companies, and car dealers will be among the first users. Move over, John Hancock.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.