Second only to outright failure, it is a test taker's worst nightmares.
After paying several hundred dollars, struggling through months of preparation, and suffering through four hours of arcane questions, the test taker learns that the results won't count.
That nightmare became a reality this month when 127 bankers and corporate treasury professionals received an apologetic note from the Treasury Management Association about irregularities in the certified cash manager's exam administered in June in New York.
"With the apparent integrity of the exam at stake, the TMA has no other choice but to invalidate the examinations from the New York test site," said W. Steven Culp, the certification chairman, in an Aug. 5 letter.
The certification, which has been granted to approximately 8,000 treasury professionals over the past 11 years, provides cash managers with an in-depth understanding of the treasury system - and for some is necessary for a promotion.
The June test is the first that the group has disqualified.
Officials of the trade association and the test administrator, Chauncey Group International, a division of the Educational Testing Service, said cheating had occurred.
"A statistical analysis isolated three to five pairs of tests that indicated that they were more similar than most tests should be," said Donald Major, president of the trade group.
"The analysis that we did was inconclusive in terms of the validity of the scores, and we made the recommendation that the entire test be given," said Phyllis H. Lewis, the acting managing principal of the corporate services unit of Chauncey. "They accepted our recommendation."
To compensate those who took the test, the trade group is offering the option of taking a new one for free Oct. 12 or next June 14. The group is also waiving its fee for a review course in September.
In addition, Chauncey Group is reimbursing all of the exam and registration fees as well as reimbursement for travel expenses.
For several of the test takers, however, the solutions are unsatisfactory.
"Many of my colleagues are extremely frustrated with this decision to nullify the test scores," said John O'Hara, an assistant vice president at Citicorp who took the nullified test on June 1. "As far as I'm concerned, the value of the accreditation has been greatly diminished as a result of this decision."
Not having this credential can definitely "hold back people who might be promoted," said Anil Thomas, a manager at Citicorp who also took the June 1 test.
"What's going to prevent this from happening again?" Mr. O'Hara asked. "Is it a crapshoot?"
In an attempt to prevent the problem from recurring, the trade group plans to send a certified cash manager to each exam to report directly back to the office.
"I'm comfortable with the decision that was taken," Mr. Culp said. "We empathize with the people affected, most of whom took six months of their lives, if not more, to prepare and study. Now, we're asking all of them to go through that same preparation process again."