Fidelity Investments of Boston and American Century of Kansas City, Mo. both announced last week that in light of the Electronic Signatures Act taking effect on Oct. 1, they would accept new applications online, without handwritten signatures of any kind. Neither firm is requiring signatures, either at the time of an account opening or later, on hard copies via fax or the mail.

Fidelity has not yet set a date for when it will permit retail, non-retirement accounts to be opened online, but it does expect to begin doing so later this month, said Jessica Catino, a Fidelity spokesperson. By the end of the year, Fidelity plans to extend the new service to 401(k) plans and IRA's, Catino said.

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