A centuries-old Japanese tradition of stamping documents with seals in place of signatures is finally waning, as more people have been working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Corporate giants like Toyota and Nomura are signing up for the electronic signature services of a little-known company called Bengo4.com Inc., which has sent its stock soaring 100% this year.

The share-price surge made Bengo4’s founder, Taichiro Motoe, a billionaire largely based on his stake in the Tokyo-listed company he founded 15 years ago. Forbes estimates Motoe’s net worth at just over $1 billion.

Investors are optimistic about Bengo4’s e-signature service, called CloudSign, in the Covid-19 era. As more people work remotely, Japanese companies are switching to e-signatures from physical stamps called hanko to authenticate documents—a practice Japan followed since at least the 1800s. “CloudSign is changing the traditional hanko culture,” says Motoe on September 17, in his first interview with international media.

“I had to put stamps on a huge pile of contracts one by one. I felt such inefficiency in the business culture.”

Taichiro Motoe

According to Bengo4, its CloudSign is the dominant e-signature service in Japan with 80% of the country’s market share. More than 100,000 companies in a range of industries use CloudSign, up from less than 50,000 a year ago.

“Bengo4.com’s share price has risen sharply on expectations for faster penetration of electronic contract services as government-led efforts to discontinue the use of personal seals gather pace in response to Covid-19,” JPMorgan analyst Haruka Mori wrote in


While major corporations furloughing workers and declaring bankruptcy tends to get the biggest headlines, our culture’s dramatic shift to working from home is the true breakout business story from this pandemic. The transition has certainly had its share of ups and downs, but rapidly growing acceptance indicates this is a trend that is almost certainly going to shape the future of work.


The transition began before 2020

While Covid-19 restrictions caused an abrupt shift, working from home was already accelerating. Research from FlexJobs found that the number of people in the United States who worked from home grew by an astounding 159 percent between 2005 and 2017.

Much of this growth can be attributed to freelancing. Upwork’s Freelancing in America 2019 survey found that the number of Americans who did freelance work grew from 53 million to 57 million between 2014 and 2019. Younger generations were especially likely to participate, with 40 percent of millennials and 53 percent of Generation Z contributing to the gig economy.



Technology that enabled remote work certainly played a major role, but so did attitudes toward the workplace in general. Flexibility in hours and location, in particular, are viewed as a major benefit that was already driving this transition.


Related: How to Work From Home Successfully

The pandemic’s impact

Still, the pandemic brought about a transformation that had never been seen before. A survey by Global Workplace Analytics found that 97 percent of North American office employees worked from home for more than one day per week, even though 67 percent had not participated in remote work previously.


While news stories have had a tendency to focus on parents struggling while sharing