Often, in the process of developing automation on the DocuSign platform, we recommend that our customers use a DocuSign Template, even in scenarios when the API will be used to integrate with DocuSign.
However, there are a few caveats about DocuSign Templates that you should be aware of. These caveats are sometimes not very well understood or even addressed purely through the use of the DocuSign features. In our post today we cover how our staff uses particular methods to address these caveats and gotchas.
If you’re unfamiliar with DocuSign Templates, you should know they are a great means of streamlining repetitive steps or set of documents where you need to collect data or signatures. Using them, you can define all of the roles and workflow for the various people who will need to review, sign, or provide data on your forms, as well as the locations on the form where they need to perform these actions. Think of DocuSign Templates as a home blueprint that can be used again and again to build the same house for different people. This is why we have our own slogan for DocuSign Templates: The Track-Housing Process for Form Automation!
All joking aside, DocuSign Templates work especially well for standard forms like new client questionnaires. The challenge arises if your documents are somewhat dynamic, where the content may change, resulting in change in pagination or location of where your clients need to sign or fill out the form. A great example of this is a new sales contracts or loan applications that may have different disclosures or content depending on the property being purchased or the number of people involved.
DocuSign has a solution for this as well, referred to as Anchor Tags and their associated Anchor Text. This is how DocuSign explains this feature:
Anchor text is a feature that allows text to be used in documents as a placeholder for signature, initial and other tags.
As a best practice, DocuSign recommends creating unique text in your documents with the text color the same as the background so that these texts are machine searchable, but not visible to the human eye.
This works great for scenarios where you have control over the underlying form. You can add unique text for each field. For example, for a signature, you can use “*sig1*\”. In other words, in your underlying document, you place this white text on white background where you’d like to auto-place signature tags for your first signer. Given the use of backward slash and asterisk, combined with the text “sig1”, you’ve created a unique text that, most likely, won’t appear anywhere else in your document. What’s more, you can standardize on this text and combine it with standard signature or form blocks to use throughout all of your forms, allowing for easier future edits.
There’s a big catch, though!
The problem arises when you don’t have control of the underlying document. “When does THAT happen?” you ask. Well, in the example of a Loan Application above, often you’re dealing with forms that are provided to you by a government agency or regulatory body where changes to the underlying document are not possible or are forbidden, Even when such changes are possible, they often require a long review cycle to implement.
Aside from regulatory-required documents, you may also deal with forms provided to you by a partner or a customer on a regular basis that you’d like to automate. An example of this is in Financial Services and Wealth Management where a Custodian may require particular forms to be filled out for any new Account opened, where Financial Advisors are required to use the Custodian documents along with theirs for any new client.
So, what do you do in these scenarios?
By definition, you certainly can’t modify the underlying document and still be in compliance with regulatory or your partner’s requirements. What makes these scenarios more complex is that often, signature and data field locations may not have existing unique text for each location.
A great example of this is the signature block of the US Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service’s Request for Transcript of Tax Return, better known as form 4506T. This form doesn’t change much. In fact, there are new releases of this form, at best, on an annual basis. What’s more, not much changes within it.
However, we’ve seen when with some slight text changes on this form, the signature block moves around from a few pixels to a whole new line. This could be a minor inconvenience if this is the only form you have. But if your business is like most, you have tens or hundreds of forms that you have to review and maintain annually. So, such minor changes, made manually on tens or hundreds of forms adds to additional operational cost that you likely are trying to avoid with the use of DocuSign.
In our example of the 4506T form, at first glance, you may think to use the term “Signature” and “Spouse’s Signature” to distinguish the two signer locations for the two different individuals. There are a couple of issues with this. First, the term “Signature” appears in both. It’s not unique. So, if we use “Signature” to find the signature location for the first signer, the system will automatically find both instances of the word and place the first signer’s signature tab on both locations. You certainly don’t want that.
Second, the term “Signature” actually appears eight times in this document, in multiple paragraphs and not as an actual indicator of the signature location! So, you’d end up with eight signature tabs for your first signer, seven of which are in places s/he is not supposed to sign!
How can you solve this?
You have to realize two factors. First, you don’t have to use a different distinct text for each tab. In other words, I can use the same text, but with an offset, for more than one tab. All I would do is use the text I have in mind for the tab during template creation, then nudge it over to where I actually want it placed during sending/signing! The platform remembers this offset and uses it going forward.
Second, I can use unique phrases, not just words. This could even be a whole sentence. What we’ve found is that forms like the 4506T, or others provided by partners, often have a name or unique text in the header or footer that can be used as the anchor string. In the case of the 4506T, the term “For Privacy Act and Paperwork Reduction Act Notice” appears only once at the bottom of the first page. It’s a unique phrase that we can use for ALL fields that we want auto-placed on the form.
Aside from the specific examples, what’re the big takeaways here?
Don’t assume that you have to use different text for each of your fields, and always search for unique phrases, rather than single words.
And here’s the big kicker!
Remember how you could place white text on white background on your own forms? Well, you don’t need to. What we especially like about this solution is that it reduces the initial deployment efforts on existing forms, even if you DO control the formatting and content of those forms. In other words, you don’t need to place any text on the form with the same color as the background. You only need to find the unique phrase that already appears in your existing forms!
By the way, everything described here, can be used when you’re integrating with DocuSign using their API. All instructions on use of Anchor Tabs, offsets, use of unique phrases are available for you to manipulate with inline as well as server side DocuSign Templates.
Voila! Problem solved.