Can electronic signatures be used for SFC licensing applications?
No, currently, applicants still need to provide wet signatures in a prescribed manner for their licensing applications to the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).
Section 402 of the Securities and Futures Ordinance empowers the SFC to prescribe the manner for licence applicants to provide information, through publication of forms in the gazette. The current SFC licensing forms (both printed and electronic versions) were gazetted on 1 February 2019 and include specific signing requirements, such as the requirement for an applicant to sign declaration sections in the presence of a designated person (e.g. notary public or practising solicitor).
Therefore, unlike commercial contracts for which private parties may adopt electronic signatures, SFC licensing forms are statutory documents and must be signed in a prescribed manner. Although the SFC has recently delayed in obtaining individuals’ signing pages of licensing forms due to the Covid-19 pandemic (see SFC’s FAQ 9 on Licensing related matters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic), the SFC has not yet announced acceptance of electronic signatures for licensing applications.
Following the increasing use of electronic signatures for regulatory filings in other regions, we believe electronic signatures will likely be accepted in due course for SFC licensing applications, especially when the e-portal submission process is further enhanced with additional certification steps. For recent publications by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on the use of electronic signatures for certain regulatory filings, please refer to the links below: