By signing a document, a person validates or formalizes it, confirms its accuracy, or assumes responsibility for it.
It is, therefore, a significant act in both legal and ethical aspects. Violating signature rules can have serious consequences.
By signing a form or another kind of document as a representative (advisor), an advisor certifies that they have fulfilled their professional obligations and is assuming responsibility in several ways.
The following are examples of situations in which the representative (advisor) cannot sign a form or any other document in this role:
- They do not have the right to practise in the field applicable for the client’s request.
- They have not met the client, either in person or remotely using IT.
- They have not verified the accuracy of information included in the form or document.
- They have not confirmed the suitability of the product purchased with the form or document.
- The representative (advisor) is responsible for a series of tasks, and by signing a document in this respect, they confirm they have successfully completed them.
When the advisor confirms someone’s signature as a witness, they certify that they personally confirmed the person’s identity, that they witnessed this person signing the document, and that they were present during this signature. If not, the advisor is committing an ethical violation and making a false statement, because by signing they are confirming something they are not personally aware of, which constitutes a lack of integrity.
The dangers of non-compliance with obligations in this respect are real, both for the advisor and the client. The advisor may be held responsible for issues that ensue. For example, the client’s signature may have been forged, or the information that the advisor must confirm for accuracy may be false. Or, a person with ill intent may make a transaction request for the client and cause them harm.
If the document requires a witness’ signature and the advisor cannot sign in this respect, another person present during the signature may do so. In this situation, the advisor must obtain the contact information of this person and add them to the client file.
The section Using information technology provides all the details regarding the advisor being able to sign electronically.
Forging someone’s signature is a serious offence that undeniably damages the image of the profession. Most of the time, results in a sanction of dismissal. In this way, the rule is clear: the advisor may not forge their client’s signature under any circumstances. This practice calls the advisor’s integrity into question and may open the door to potential fraud.
An advisor may be tempted to sign documents for their client as a favour, and sometimes even at the client’s request, if for example they forgot to sign in a specific place. The advisor must know that if they sign for their client, their action can have serious consequences for them. No matter the explanations they may give to the syndic or the disciplinary committee in the event of a complaint, they are no excuse for this violation of their ethical obligations.
Although they may be well-intentioned, nothing justifies forging a signature, even if the advisor:
- means well
- is trying to save time for their client
- wants to do their client a favour
- wants to avoid making their client travel
The advisor must remember that most clients will appreciate their integrity and will be reassured they are working with a trustworthy advisor, even if they have to do more work to sign a document.
The following actions are also ethical violations related to signatures:
- Photocopying the client’s signature
- Letting a person forge another person’s signature
- Modifying or adding the signature date or location after the signature
- Using or keeping a signed blank form in a client’s file
The advisor’s error may become apparent during a review conducted by a financial products or insurance provider or by the Autorité des marchés financiers, or within a Chambre de la sécurité financière investigation. Or, it may be the subject of a complaint from an unhappy client, colleague, or competitor.
To avoid forgetting, before meeting their client, the advisor should note the different places where a signature is required on a form. If they forget, they will need to take the necessary measures for the client to sign the document.